Afghanistan might have changed captains a little under two months before the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup 2019, but the unity and camaraderie in the side is as strong as ever, Gulbadin Naib, the new captain, said on Thursday, 23 May.
Afghanistan Cricket Board’s decision to remove Asghar Afghan early in April, and introduce split captaincy meant Naib had the honor of leading the one-day international side at the World Cup in England and Wales. Afghan had, before that, led the team in their meteoric rise through the ranks, the latest feat being their maiden Test victory against Ireland in Dehradun in March.
There was, therefore, potential for disharmony following the captaincy change, but rather than give way to it, Naib said the mutual respect and admiration in team was as strong as it ever was.
“Asghar Afghan is still my captain,” Naib told the ICC on Captains Day. “We played our last few games against Ireland and Scotland, and he helped me a lot. He guided me. He’s not just another player for me, he’s still my captain right now.
“I want support from him. Not just him, but [Mohammad] Nabi, Rashid [Khan] and all the guys who have a lot of experience. All of us have one goal: we want to play for Afghanistan and play as a team, whoever the captain is.”
Naib has come a long way since the 2015 World Cup, when he played just the one match. Now he is captain, and he said he was looking forward to making the most of the opportunity.
“I am thrilled to lead the team in front of the whole world,” he smiled. “I remember our last appearance in the World Cup in 2015. I just played one game, and I was really excited just to be a part of the squad. Now, the ACB have announced me as the captain for this World Cup. It’s a big opportunity for me.”
Afghanistan won their first, and so far, only, World Cup match in 2015 against Scotland. But this time around, there are high expectations on them, given how quickly they’ve risen in world cricket. They go into the tournament with two players – Rashid and Nabi – in the top three of the MRF Tyres ICC ODI Rankings for all-rounders and have won nine and drawn four of their last 15 bilateral ODI series.
Rather than pile pressure, Naib said the expectations had boosted the side. “When you look back at the team, we have come a long way,” he said. “I am not saying we will definitely reach the semi-final of the tournament, but I have confidence in my team. I have told the team to play their natural game in every game irrespective of which team we play. We are taking every fixture as our first and last game. All the boys are excited to represent the country at this stage.
“Compared to the last two-three years, we have a much better side now. We have world-class spinners like Rashid, Nabi and Mujeeb [Ur Rahman], and in the batting department, we have guys like [Mohammad] Shahzad and Rahmat Shah.”
Afghanistan open their campaign against Australia on 1 June.