Gulbadin Naib was yet to bat in Hangzhou, when Hashmatullah Shahidi declared to a room full of reporters in Dharamsala that Afghanistan cricket didn’t need to worry about the 2019 World Cup. “That’s the history that’s gone…four years,” said the Afghanistan skipper ahead of his side’s 2023 World Cup opener against Bangladesh here on Saturday.
Shahidi’s context was that the team didn’t carry the baggage of their last outing in the tournament which saw them lose nine out of nine games. There couldn’t have been a better indicator than Naib, who was the captain and the face of a dismal campaign four years ago, hitting the winning runs for the other Afghanistan team in their Asian Games semi final against Pakistan 30 minutes later.
In India, Afghanistan arrive as a third time participant in the ODI World Cup, having first done so in Australia and New Zealand in 2015. Shahidi, who was appointed the ODI and Test captain in May, is confident that the current team is in a better space than their predecessors. “I think our mindset is different now, and as a team, and as a leader, I’m very confident this time for this World Cup. I think we will make this tournament historic for our country’s people.”
Among the factors that make Shahidi confident is a familiarity with the conditions which isn’t just restricted to quite a few Afghan players being part of IPL franchises. “As you know that our players play a lot in the IPL but even those who don’t are aware of the conditions because India was our home.” With Afghanistan’s previous home base having been Sharjah in the UAE, the BCCI have played hosts to the neighboring nation’s national side in venues at Dehradun, Greater Noida and even the newly refurbished Ekana Stadium in Lucknow.
The presence of former India skipper Ajay Jadeja as the national team mentor also bodes well. “He’s played a lot here and is also a very positive person.” Speaking of positive, Rahmanullah Gurbaz at the top of the order – having scored hundreds against Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka in recent 50 over games – provides a batting cushion previous Afghanistan teams have lacked. On his approach, Shahidi said, “I always tell him, ‘Play your own way. That’s your strength’. Just that you are very talented and you are one of the best players in the team, so you have to take responsibility.”