At the start of the ICC Cricket World Cup Qualifier 2018, a match-up between the West Indies and Afghanistan would have been considered a clash between the tournament favourites. But today’s opening match of the Super Sixes stage will have one of the strongest team in the competition take on a team that has just about made it to this round.
Afghanistan won only one game in the league stage: a six-wicket win against Nepal. Coming into the Super Sixes carrying no points, they cannot afford to lose any matches. They have blown hot and cold in the league stages and have had to deal with some tough losses because their batting and bowling did not click together.
Barring Mohammad Nabi (215 runs at 53.75) and Mujeeb Ur Rahman (9 wickets at 16.22), not many Afghanistan players have been among the runs and wickets.
Batting lapses hurt their chances in the games against Zimbabwe, where they lost 6/38 in 16.1 overs, and Hong Kong, where the collapse was 5/62 in 11 overs. It is an area they need to address.
They will be bolstered by the return of wicket-keeper batsman Mohammad Shahzad, who was suspended for two games owing to a breach of ICC’s Code of Conduct after Afghanistan’s narrow two-run defeat to Zimbabwe.
The bowlers have done a reasonably good job, but will have to be at their best against a formidable line-up that contains Chris Gayle, Evin Lewis and Marlon Samuels.
Windies, meanwhile, have enjoyed a strong run to the Super Sixes, with several players contributing in each match. While consistency among the batsmen has been an issue, the team will be pleased that someone has always put their hand up and gone on to get a big score. Gayle and Shimron Hetmyer hit centuries in their opening game against the United Arab Emirates and took them to 357/4, a steely 99* by captain Jason Holder helped the team bounce back from 58/4 and chase down 201 against Papua New Guinea, Rovman Powell hit his maiden one-day international century against Ireland, while an unbeaten 73 by Marlon Samuels in the last game against the Netherlands helped make it four in four.
Backing that has been excellent fielding, especially against the Netherlands in the final group game.
In a tournament where not many things have gone right for Afghanistan, their senior all-rounder Nabi has risen to the occasion. He has scored 215 runs so far at an impressive average of 53.75 and picked up eight wickets in four matches. His presence in the middle order has been crucial to Afghanistan’s chances and his off-spin bowling in the middle overs has provided the team with breakthroughs.
While Gayle and Lewis have stolen the show at the top of the order, Hetymer, who has scored 181 runs from four games at 45.25, has also had a tournament to remember. His knock of reckoning came in the first game against the UAE when he complemented Gayle’s 123 with a 127 of his own. The knock contained 14 fours and four sixes. The left-hander has been a solid presence at No. 3 and has helped Windies recover in case they lost an early wicket: the 36 against Ireland when they had lost Lewis early was an example of such a knock.Scattered thunderstorms are expected in Harare today and the humidity is expected to be 66 per cent. The temperature should be in the mid-20s. The pitch at the Harare Sports Club has assisted the batsman throughout the tournament and may continue to do so. With power hitters on both sides, a high-scoring game is on the cards.(ICC)