Afghanistan’s remarkable rise as a cricketing nation, from competing against Jersey, Botswana, Japan, Italy, Fiji and Argentina in lower divisions of the ICC World Cricket League to qualifying for a second straight World Cup, began way before the emergence of Rashid Khan.
The leg-spinner only made his international debut in October 2015 – seven months after the previous World Cup in which debutants Afghanistan beat Scotland and gave Sri Lanka a scare – but as the side head into the latest 50-over showpiece, he is their most feted player.
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Afghanistan’s World Cup squad
Gulbadin Naib (captain), Mohammad Shahzad, Noor Ali Zadran, Hazratullah Zazai, Rahmat Shah, Asghar Afghan, Hashmatullah Shahidi, Najibullah Zadran, Samiullah Shinwari, Mohammad Nabi, Rashid Khan, Dawlat Zadran, Aftab Alam, Hamid Hassan, Mujeeb ur Rahman
Rashid’s numbers are staggering, even taking into account that most of his 57 one-day internationals and 38 T20 internationals have come against teams outside of the elite nations.
He has the best ODI bowling average – 15.00 – and strike rate – 23 – of any player ever to send down more than 1,000 deliveries in the format.
He is one of only 12 players to take seven wickets or more in an innings, doing so when he ripped through West Indies with 7-18 in St Lucia in 2017.
He is the fastest to 100 ODI wickets, achieving the feat in his 44th match, eight games quicker than Australian speedster Mitchell Starc’s 52.
Only fellow leggie, Adil Rashid, has bagged more ODI scalps than Khan since the 2015 World Cup – but then the Englishman has played significantly more matches.
Rashid’s T20 statistics are even more startling. An 11.56 average – the best ever – an 11.5 strike rate – the best ever – and then four wickets in four balls against Ireland in February.
But another Afghanistan player in his early twenties could light up the World Cup – hard-hitting opening batsman Hazratullah Zazai.
Hazrat to his mates. Afghanistan’s Chris Gayle to some in his homeland. A six machine if you’re Ireland.
Compatriot Rashid holds a plethora of bowling records but Hazrat owns some batting ones, too, and blazed his country to a few more following a blitzkrieg in Dehradun earlier this year.
Up in smoke went Aaron Finch’s record of 14 sixes in a T20I innings – set for Australia against England at The Ageas Bowl in 2013 – as Zazai smoked 16 maximums against Ireland in a 62-ball 162 not out, walloping Afghanistan to a world-record T20I total of 278-3.
Zazai had already lived up to the ‘Afghanistan’s Gayle’ moniker in October 2018 when he matched the effervescent Jamaican and India’s Yuvraj Singh for the briskest T20 fifty, a 12-ball effort for Kabul Zwanan against Balkh Legends in the Afghanistan Premier League.
He equalled Yuvraj in another way, too, after striking six sixes in an over, just as the Indian had done to Stuart Broad during the 2007 ICC World T20.
Gayle had a tremendous view of Hazrat’s pyrotechnics as he was playing for the opposition.
The West Indian – who will retire from ODIs after his fifth World Cup this summer – had nailed 10 maximums for the Legends in a 48-ball 80 as his side racked up an ultimately winning score of 244-6.
But that total did appear in jeopardy during Hazrat’s devastating innings, in which he cracked left-arm spinner Abdullah Mazari over the ropes six times in the fourth over of the run chase.
Zazai became the sixth player to strike six maximums in an over in a recognised fixture and was delighted to do it in in the presence of one of his heroes.
SIX SIXES IN AN OVER
- Garry Sobers – 1968
- Ravi Shastri – 1985
- Herschelle Gibbs – 1997
- Yuvraj Singh – 1997
- Ross Whiteley – 2017
- Hazratullah Zazai – 2018
“It was a surreal moment for me to perform in front of my idol,” Zazai said, referring to Gayle and after a match which featured a T20-record 37 sixes.
“I was just trying to play my natural game and did not in any way think of outshining anyone.
“It is a proud moment for me. It is very enjoyable that my name is now linked to so many big names of the game, who are really legends of the game.”
Fifty-over batting remains a work in progress for Zazai but he showed glimpses during a 43-ball 67 versus Ireland in March, which included five customary sixes. He also smashed 49 off just 28 deliveries in Afghanistan’s warm-up win over Pakistan on Friday.
He could have at least nine games at the World Cup, with the 10 sides playing in a round-robin format before the semi-finals and final, but Shane Warne is not categorically ruling out more.
When asked whether Afghanistan were legitimate contenders, the Australian told the Independent: “If they can make some runs.
“With their bowling, and if it’s a hot summer, and the wickets spin, people won’t want to play against them.”
If they can make some runs. Over to you, Hazrat…