Desperate Windies face Afghan challenge
After a nightmarish home series against India where they couldn’t win a single game in any format, West Indies take on a spirited Afghanistan in the first ODI at the Atal Bihari Vajpayee Ekana Cricket Stadium on Wednesday.
The two sides, which occupy bottom rung spots among Test-playing nations in the rankings across all formats, will play three ODIs, three T20s and a Test during the month-long full series at Afghanistan’s adopted home.
While both sides have an eye at next year’s T20 World Cup, West Indies will be desperate to get some wins before they face India in limited-overs series in December for a chance to redeem themselves.
Afghanistan, who put up fighting display in a few matches at the 50-overs World Cup even though losing all their games, have done well in recent times.
Since the World Cup, Afghanistan defeated Bangladesh in a one-off Test and also made it to the final of a T20 tri-series in Bangladesh where Zimbabwe were the other team. The final was abandoned due to rain.
“We need to sharpen our skills in all formats of the game and every series holds a lot of importance as we are planning big at the next World Cup,” spin wizard and young Afghan skipper Rashid Khan said on the eve of the first ODI, a day-night game.
“Our inexperience against big teams made a lot of difference at the World Cup this July. We did manage to trouble rivals in some of the games but we lost all our nine games. We needed to win at least 4-5 games in the league phase,” said Khan, who captained the side to a four-wicket win over West Indies in a practice game on Sunday.
He didn’t bowl at all but showed a lot of confidence in seamers Yamin Ahmadzai, Naveen-ul-Haq and Karim Janat, who did well to put the Caribbean team in trouble early before left-arm spinner Sharafuddin Ashraf and another seamer and former captain Gulbadin Naib stalled the opposition’s progress with variations.
Rahmat Shah, Najibullah Zadran and Asghar Afghan then guided the team home in 34.5 overs under lights.
Pollard & Co, who didn’t face frontline spinners in the warm-up but still struggled, will have to handle experienced Mohammad Nabi and young offie Mujeeb Ur Rehman apart from skipper Khan.
Though the head-to-head record between the two sides gives West Indies the edge – they have won three out of six with one no-result, Pollard’s boys have lost two out of the last three ODIs played between them. Both the losses came at the World Cup qualifiers last year while the lone win came at the World Cup.
“We have many youngsters in the side who are gaining confidence, and they know their responsibilities well. They are being backed up by the seniors well, and we need to play like a strong unit here,” West Indies coach Phil Simmons said.
“I admire the rise of Afghanistan cricket but we hold the honour of winning the World Cup twice and finishing runners-up once and we need to play like that,” he said adding, “now it is the responsibility of the youngsters to take West Indies cricket forward.”
Roston Chase, Jason Holder and opener Evin Lewis, who were the top scorers for their team in the practice game, will look for solid contributions from Shai Hope, Shimron Hetmyer, Nicholas Pooran and Pollard himself in the match on Wednesday. In the bowling department, Sheldon Cottrell, Alzarri Joseph and Jason Holder would shoulder the responsibility.