They might not be Cricket World Cup contenders or even make the semifinals, but Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Bangladesh all have the potential to beat many of the top teams because of their skillful spin bowlers.
The Asian heavyweights — host India and regional foe Pakistan — are the top two south Asian contenders for the semifinals, mainly because of experienced batters in their side. But both lack depth in their spin departments and could hardly match the spinners of at least Sri Lanka and Afghanistan, with Bangladesh not far behind.
Mercurial leg-spinner Rashid Khan leads Afghanistan’s strong spin trio that also include other impact spinners — Mujeeb Ur Rahman and Mohammad Nabi — while left-arm spinner Noor Ahmad could also prove to be a surprise package.
Rashid’s experience of playing Indian Premier League should come in handy for Afghanistan and his wizardry on expected slow surfaces during the World Cup could turn the tables in Afghanistan’s favor.
Mujeeb and Nabi also could lend Rashid ideal support in the middle overs to stem the flow of runs. Afghanistan, which had direct qualification for the World Cup, also recalled fast bowler Naveen-ul-Haq to its ODI team after two years as it left out experienced all-rounder Gulbadin Naib, who put on an impressive show in the recent Asia Cup, but couldn’t win selectors’ confidence.
Along with Naveen, fast bowler Azmatullah Omarzai also returns to the side after being ruled out of the Asia Cup due to injury and got the nod ahead of Karim Jannat.
Despite a formidable bowling base, it could all come down to the Afghan batters and how well they support their bowlers. Can Rahmanullah Gurbaz provide them with an aggressive start against lethal pace attacks? Can Ibrahim Zadran, captain Hashmatullah Shahidi and Rahmat Shah consolidate in the middle overs? That is a question that won’t be answered until they face the likes of Jasprit Burmah, Shaheen Afridi, Mark Wood and Pat Cummins.
As expected, leg-spinning all-rounder Dushan Hemantha has come in for injured Wanindu Hasaranga in Sri Lanka’s squad.
Hasaranga played a pivotal role in getting Sri Lanka through to the qualifiers in Zimbabwe, but had been sidelined since picking up a hamstring injury during the Lanka Premier League. The 26-year-old Hasaranga has taken 67 wickets at an average of 28.77 in 48 ODIs.
In Hasaranga’s absence, Dunith Wellalage impressed everyone at the Asia Cup with his left-arm wrist spin that even baffled the star-studded Indian batting lineup during the Super 4 part of the tournament. Offspinner Maheesh Theekshana, whose bowling in the powerplay could prove vital against big nations, is expected to regain fitness ahead of Sri Lanka’s opening game against South Africa on Oct. 7.
Dasun Shanaka will captain Sri Lanka despite his poor form with the bat. He has scored only 150 runs in his last 17 one-day innings.
Bangladesh had some late controversy when key batter Tamim Iqbal said he opted out of the team after a dispute with a member of the Bangladesh Cricket Board. The opening batsman on Wednesday described the situation as “a dirty game.”
“Someone called me from the top level of the board who is very involved with our cricket. He said that if you go to the World Cup you have to play the matches by managing your (back) injury. So, you better do one thing, don’t play the first match against Afghanistan (on Oct. 7),” Tamim said on a video posted on his official Facebook account.
Tamim, Bangladesh’s all-time top scorer in ODIs with 8,357 runs in 240 innings, returned to the squad after recovering from back pain which led him to quit the one-day captaincy.
New captain Shakib Al Hasan is the mainstay of Bangladesh hopes just as the allrounder was during the last World Cup when he topped the batting charts before the team made an exit after the first round.
There were mixed performances in the recent Asia Cup as Bangladesh looked to find the right combination for the World Cup. They lost to Sri Lanka and Pakistan in their Super 4 games before beating India in its last game which pleased head coach Chandika Hathurusinghe.
“It is huge for us to go into the World Cup,” Hathurusinghe said soon after Bangladesh beat India in a game in which Hadrik Pandya and Virat Kohli were rested. “We go (into the World Cup) with a lot of confidence, especially with what happened in this tournament.”
Al Hasan has Towhid Hridoy in the middle-order, who showed his batting prowess in Asia Cup. But Bangladesh needs its top-order batters to fare equally well before the captain carries them through to challenging totals in the World Cup.
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