Afghanistan came into the ICC Men's Cricket World Cup 2019 with much promise, but ended up winless after nine matches. It was far from what was expected of them, especially after the manner in which they competed in the 2018 Asia Cup, where they beat Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, almost beat Pakistan, and held India to a tie. The difference this time were the surfaces in England, which haven't favoured spin bowling all tournament. As a team heavily dependent on their trio of spinners, Afghanistan paid the price for failing to adapt to the conditions on offer.
Like Sri Lanka, Afghanistan made a captaincy change before the tournament, as Gulbadin Naib took over from Asghar Afghan as part of a new split-captaincy system. But Naib's own form was poor and he couldn't inspire the rest of the team with his performances. Naib's shortcomings were more evident than ever in the match against Pakistan, which Afghanistan were well on track to win, before the captain's errors during the critical closing stages cost them the game. Naib apart, the form of some of their key, experienced players, such as Afghan, and leg-spinner Rashid Khan, whom they heavily depend on, was also not up to the mark. Together, it all reflected in the final margin.
Positives to take home
Mohammad Nabi was Afghanistan's biggest wicket-taker in the tournament. The all-rounder was a strike bowler for Sunrisers Hyderabad in the Indian Premier League that preceded this tournament, and he carried some of that form here, even if only partially. His 4/30 was integral to Afghanistan restricting Sri Lanka to a modest 201, while his gritty half-century brought them close to pulling off a huge upset against India.
Though they did not win either, Afghanistan's matches against Asian giants India and Pakistan certainly gave them some happy memories to take back from the tournament. Their spinners exercised brilliant control against a top-quality Indian line-up and restricted them to 224. And their batsmen put up a spirited response only to be scuppered by a superior Indian attack.
The match against Pakistan would be slightly less fondly remembered as they lost it due to their own undoing rather than the quality of the opposition. Even so, it was the match they came closest to winning, and given the stakes, with Pakistan facing a must-win to stay alive in the competition, Afghanistan can be proud of how hard they had to make Sarfaraz Ahmed's team work to earn that win.
Areas to improve
Fast bowling. Together, Afghanistan's fast bowlers managed only 23 wickets. It was also less than 50 percent of the total wickets they took in the tournament (47). That's insufficient contribution in a tournament where fast bowlers have called the shots. Spinners can't always do the job, which is something Afghanistan will start to learn as they begin to travel more outside the subcontinent.
Fielding. Afghanistan conceded valuable extra runs on more than one occasion. Naib called his team out for their fielding performance following their defeat to Bangladesh. In a high-stakes tournament where every run saved counts, Afghanistan faltered, with their lapses often giving teams match-defining extra runs.
Mujeeb Ur Rahman. The 18-year-old off-spinner was spectacular without picking up a bagful of wickets. He conceded runs at 4.47 an over and exercised superb control through all phases of the innings. Mujeeb's early wicket of Rohit Sharma in Afghanistan's match against India was one of the balls of the tournament and set up Afghanistan's near-upset.
01 June: v Australia, Bristol County Ground, Bristol - Australia won by seven wickets
04 June: v Sri Lanka, Cardiff Wales Stadium, Cardiff - Sri Lanka won by 34 runs (D-L method)
08 June: v New Zealand, County Ground, Taunton, Taunton - New Zealand won by seven wickets
15 June: v South Africa, Cardiff Wales Stadium, Cardiff - South Africa won by nine wickets
18 June: v England, Old Trafford, Manchester - England won by 150 runs
22 June: v India, Hampshire Bowl, Southampton - India won by 11 runs
24 June: v Bangladesh, Hampshire Bowl, Southampton - Bangladesh won by 62 runs
29 June: v Pakistan, Headingley, Leeds - Pakistan won by three wickets
04 July: v West Indies, Headingley, Leeds - West Indies won by 23 runs