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Five takeaways from Afghanistan's CWC19 squad

Afghanistan have named their 15-member squad for the ICC Men's Cricket World Cup 2019 on Monday, 22 April.

There's the surprise inclusion of pacer Hamid Hassan, who last played an international game in 2016. While the leadership change, from Asghar Afghan to Gulbadin Naib, is no surprise, having been announced before the preparatory camp, it is notable that Afghan has also been named in the squad.

Here we list the five main takeaways from Afghanistan's World Cup squad list.

A brand new captain 

The Afghanistan Cricket Board's announcement earlier this month, naming Naib as the new one-day international captain, took not only the followers of Afghanistan cricket by surprise, but also their own players. Under Afghan, the team had risen through the ranks, becoming a Full Member of the ICC, winning last year's ICC Cricket World Cup Qualifier and also completing their first-ever Test win over Ireland last month.

All-rounder Gulbadin Naib will lead the side in the 50-over premier tournament
All-rounder Gulbadin Naib will lead the side in the 50-over premier tournament

Naib's appointment as the new leader was taken keeping the long-term goals in mind. He has never captained in an international game, so handing him the responsibility in an event as big as the World Cup is a gamble, but he could well inject fresh energy into the squad. 

The return of Hamid Hassan

Hassan, arguably one of the best pacers from Afghanistan, last played a game at a senior level in 2017; his last international appearance was in 2016. He has been out of the picture due to prolonged injuries. His fitness is still going to be a topic of discussion – the selectors said as much at the announcement – but his experience on the grand stage could be a vital addition to the squad. 

Hassan was an effective – and entertaining! – presence in the ICC Men's Cricket World Cup 2015, picking up eight wickets in five matches, including 3/45 against Sri Lanka. If he can rediscover that pace and precision, he will be a vital part of the team. 

Pacer Hamid Hassan has earned a surprise call-up to Afghanistan's World Cup squad
Pacer Hamid Hassan has earned a surprise call-up to Afghanistan's World Cup squad

World-class spinners but how to fit them all in? 

Afghanistan stuck to having just three front-line spinners in Rashid Khan, Mohammad Nabi and Mujeeb Ur Rahman, which meant there was no place for Zahir Khan. This was probably because of the conditions expected in England, and the fact that Samiullah Shinwari and Rahmat Shah provide part-time options.

In their main spin trio, they have world-class skills. Rashid and Nabi, who are No.1 and No.3 in the MRF Tyres ICC Men's ODI All-rounder Rankings, are likely to feature in most, if not all playing XIs. Rashid, who is also the No.3-ranked bowler, has transformed into a reliable finisher with the bat and Nabi's middle-order experience is valuable. 

Afghanistan's three primary spinners – Mohammad Nabi, Rashid Khan and Mujeeb Ur Rahman
Afghanistan's three primary spinners – Mohammad Nabi, Rashid Khan and Mujeeb Ur Rahman

Rahman, on his day, can win games for his team too. He is the kind of mystery spinner that every team wants in their side.

But can the selectors fit all of them in? It might give them a happy headache while picking the playing XI. 

The year of Hazratullah Zazai

Earlier this year, Hazratullah Zazai made an unbeaten 162 in a T20I against Ireland
Earlier this year, Hazratullah Zazai made an unbeaten 162 in a T20I against Ireland

Zazai successfully announced his arrival as a hard-hitting batsman this year. Before 2019, he featured in only two ODIs for Afghanistan and had scored only 15 runs at 7.50. This year, he has played four ODIs, all of them against Ireland, and scored 140 runs at an average of 35 and a strike-rate over 100. In the shortest format, against the same opponent, he scored 204 runs from three matches at 102, including a personal best 162*.

His six-hitting ability at the top of the order allows Afghanistan to attack early. In Mohammad Shahzad, they already have an aggressive opener, with Noor Ali Zadran also an option against the new ball. If they decide to pair Zazai and Shahzad, there could be fireworks.  

The matter of experience

Video cwc19 12 Mar 19
CWC Greatest Moments: Afghanistan's first CWC win

"We selected the best squad considering factors such as experience, fitness, team balance, current form and conditions," selector Dawlat Khan Ahmadzai said at the announcement. And experience is something Afghanistan have in spades. 

They have valued the experience that Afghan brings to the squad, with his 99 ODIs. Nabi is 111 ODIs old, while Shinwari, Shahzad, Najibullah Zadran, Naib and Rashid have all played 50-plus ODIs for their side, and were in good touch in the series against Ireland. They do have a good mix of experience and youth; however, the onus will be on the veterans to help win games for their side. 

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