"Spinners are more economical than seam bowlers in all three phases of a T20 innings — the first six overs, the middle overs and the final five. And so, it makes sense to bowl a lot of spin. As Guyana Amazon Warriors showed during the Caribbean Premier League by winning 11 consecutive games, teams can benefit from taking their embrace of spin even further," Cricket 2.0 co-author Tim Wigmore, wrote in The Telegraph.
Spin in T20s was considered a recipe for disaster when the format was in its infancy. Now, as it enters its adolescent years, teams know better. From Guyana Amazon Warriors to Chennai Super Kings, Birmingham Bears and India Women, spin-heavy T20 sides have thrived. Yet, the most glaring and often ignored team among this set is Afghanistan.
From Rashid Khan and Mohammad Nabi to the super-impressive Mujeeb-ur-Rahman and now franchise-legend-in-the-making Qais Ahmad, Afghanistan's cupboard is replete with spinners of all kinds.
Their T20 record is stupendous to say the least. Since their first-ever T20I in February 2010, there has only been one team (among the 16 set to play the T20 World Cup) with a better success rate (measured by win/loss ratio) — Namibia — who have played way lesser number of games than Afghanistan.
Table: Team record in T20Is since Afghanistan debut
Of the 81 games played, Afghanistan have won 55 and lost just 25. Surely, that's a scarcely believable record and pretty much underrated at first glance.
However, cut the blind numbers and peek behind the scenes and you realise that Afghanistan's record is actually inflated by quite a few wins against some of the minnows in T20I format, notably Ireland, against whom they have won 14 of the 18 matches played. Zimbabwe and Bangladesh have also been whipping boys for the Blue Tigers who have pretty much choked quite a few teams with their spin-heavy attack.
Table: Afghanistan against top T20I teams
Yet, think of one batsman who might have made a major contribution for them in their history and no name strikes home as much as any of Rashid, Mujeeb or Nabi. If the batsman's game needed a devilish evil twin, it is T20, a bowler's format, yet rarely recognised as such.
A deep dig into Afghanistan's inflated success record also reveals that it hasn't won a single T20I against England, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka or South Africa. However, let's not write them off as minnow bashers yet.
Since 2018, they have beaten teams in a dreaded, dominant manner. Series wins against Bangladesh, Ireland (twice), Zimbabwe and notably, West Indies, are also complemented by a shared tri-series win. They haven't yet played too many of the big boys but the T20 team is taking a wonderful shape with their bowling at the pinnacle of it all.
Rashid, Mujeeb and Nabi are joined by potent pacers in Karim Janat, a hard-hitting seam-bowling all-rounder, and Naveen-ul-Haq, perhaps the final piece in Afghanistan's T20I bowling jigsaw. Naveen brings in quality new ball bowling and a myriad of variations in the death while Janat is a pretty good seam bowler himself.
The extraordinary array of spinners on either side of Janat and Naveen make Afghanistan a formidable T20I outfit. Their current T20I record might be ballooned by wins against minnows, but expect the team to show an even steeper rise in the format in the next decade as these spinners grow into their golden years. There's nothing stopping them from finding success in the international arena with their bowling attack unless there's an impromptu birth certificate check from ICC.
Feature image courtesy: AFP / Munir Uz Zaman
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