KABUL: Afghanistan named fast bowler Hamid Hassan, who last played for the national side in July 2016, in their 15-man squad for the Cricket World Cup on Monday.
Hamid, 31, has played 32 One-day Internationals for the war-torn nation and was also part of Afghanistan’s maiden appearance at the 50-over World Cup in Australia and New Zealand four years back and returns for the first time since 2017 because of fitness issues alongside other frontline quicks Dawlat Zadran and Aftab Alam.
“Luckily for us, the comeback of senior fast bowler Hamid Hassan is a good news,” Afghanistan chief selector Dawlat Ahmadzai said in a statement. “However, we will take into account his form and fitness during upcoming practice matches.”
Earlier this month, Afghanistan replaced long-serving ODI captain Asghar Afghan — who has still been included in the squad — with pace-bowling all-rounder Gulbadin Naib as part of wholesale changes to the team’s leadership structure across formats.
While several senior players — including former captain Mohammad Nabi and spin wizard Rashid Khan — questioned the timing of the leadership changes before the May 30-July 14 World Cup, Asghar kept his place in the squad. The spinners are the biggest strength of Afghanistan, touted as the ‘dark horse’, and they named three specialist world-class slow bowlers in Rashid, Nabi and 18-year-old mystery spinner Mujeeb Ur Rahman.
Rashid, 20, is the top-ranked bowler in the shortest Twenty20 format and third in the list of bowlers for the 50-over format.
“It has been a six-month preparation process for the ICC Cricket World Cup,” Ahmadzai said. “The mission is to play inspirational cricket in the tournament; I know there are strong teams but we will do our level best to achieve our goals.
“As chief selector, it is my duty to select a competitive team. However, there were some challenges that we needed to handle. We selected the best squad considering factors such as experience, fitness, team balance, current form and conditions.
“We hope to play great cricket without any fear and with a fighting spirit in the tournament.”
Veteran batsman Javed Ahmadi and fast bowler Shapoor Zadran were ignored by the selectors, who instead opted for hard-hitting opening batsman Hazratullah Zazai.
While most of the Afghan team are at a training camp in South Africa, the spinners are all warming up for the World Cup in the Indian Premier League.
Wicket-keeper/batsman Ikram Ali Khil and the pace duo of Karim Janat and Sayed Shirzad were named reserve players for the team, who begin their campaign against reigning champions Australia on June 1.
Many Afghanistan cricketers learned the game in refugee camps in Pakistan, their families having fled the Soviet invasion in the 1980s.
Since beating the odds to compete at the 2010 World Twenty20 in England, Afghanistan have qualified for all major international tournaments and recorded their first Test victory against Ireland last month.
Afghanistan are regarded as dark horses, having beaten former champions Sri Lanka in the Asia Cup last year as well as forcing a tie with giants India.
Squad: Gulbadin Naib (captain), Mohammad Shahzad (wicket-keeper), Noor Ali Zadran, Hazratullah Zazai, Rahmat Shah, Asghar Afghan, Hashmatullah Shahidi, Najibullah Zadran, Samiullah Shinwari, Mohammad Nabi, Rashid Khan, Dawlat Zadran, Aftab Alam, Hamid Hassan, Mujeeb Ur Rahman.
Published in Dawn, April 23rd, 2019