A layman’s perception of Afghanistan is bound to be turbulent given the extent of the conflicted history the nation has carried for over the years. Thus, thinking about them as a cricketing nation would be the rearmost entity in one’s grasp.

But away from the hysteria, things do look good for the Afghanis. Once drowned in an absolute warzone, two of the top three players in ICC ODI all-rounder rankings today are Afghans. In Rashid Khan, the country has someone for whom the domestic T20 franchises would go extreme. Mohammad Nabi, on the other hand, has been defying his age in the most perfect way possible.

However positive strides the country and its cricketing body has taken, the unfortunate fact remains that the players are still forced to play their home games some 950 km away from home in India.

Come the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup, which has the fewest participants since 1992, Afghanistan find themselves among the very best. They have already been here, having been a part of the 2015 edition of the tournament, but this year their quest will be bigger than just playing for figures.

A go at the ultimate trophy still remains a lucid dream for Afghanistan, but that’s what an underdog team is all about. Who expected Bangladesh to defeat the eventual finalist Pakistan in their first ever Cricket World Cup? Or who, in his rightful mind, would have imagined a young brigade of Ajax from Amsterdam would upset the likes of Juventus and Real Madrid.

If not for going for the glory, this Afghanistan team is well and truly capable of denting others’ hankering. Remember, we are talking about a team spearheaded by Rashid Khan, who for most of his career hasn’t got professional coaching and yet, finds himself at the pinnacle of T20 bowling rankings and sits third in the ODIs; only behind Jasprit Bumrah and Trent Boult.

AFP / Money Sharma

A major chunk of credit for Afghanistan’s resurgence goes to the roaring of T20 cricket over the years, which has unearthed some cricketing gems from the nation. Also, not to forget a decent backing of BCCI for providing them with an alternative home. Following their 2015 World Cup campaign, Afghanistan impressed in their outings, especially against Zimbabwe, UAE, Ireland and West Indies, which proved to be a great experience for the team.

Over the past few months though, the Afghanistan Cricket Board has gathered unwanted limelight after Asghar Afghan was sacked from his duties as a captain. Three new captains, for three formats, were named and Gulbadin Naib was given the nod for the ODIs. Several players, including Nabi and Rashid, expressed their discontent citing that the team had been gelling well leading to the World Cup. But the decision was made anyway.

Naib and his men will begin their World Cup campaign against the defending champions, Australia and while we cannot expect them to dent the Aussies’ dream, the following fixture against Sri Lanka is something for the savers.