Since they qualified for the World Cup on the back of a confident WCL Championship campaign, Afghanistan have put together an enviable series of results against Full Member opposition which includes a defeat of Bangladesh and two wins against Zimbabwe. Against stronger opposition, they've lacked the discipline to force any sort of result, but with the amount of talent available to the Afghans, there is great cause for optimism.
Unfortunately, very little of that has been on show on their pre-World Cup tour of Australia. After twice being flattened by a Western Australia side without any of its Perth Scorchers contingent, they have improved things with a couple of last-over run-chases against a New South Wales Second/Third XI. However nice these victories are for team morale, the fact remains that they are scratching over the line against teams of a standard that the UAE have been beating confidently.
What's their best XI?
For the Afghans, their most talented XI and their best XI are two very different things. Mohammad Shahzad, for instance, is a more gifted 'keeper batsman than Shafiqullah Shenwari, but Shafiqullah has been picked as the best man for the team since the disappointment of the World Twenty20. Also encouraging is the new crop of young players who are quite at home in the team, like Usman Ghani, Sharafuddin Ashraf and Hashmatullah Shaidi to name but three. The most difficult thing, in my opinion, is picking just eleven of them. Assuming that Hamid Hassan's fitness remains patchy, my best effort would be:
Noor Ali Zadran, Usman Ghani, Nawroz Mangal, Mohammad Shahzad, Mohammad Naib, Hashmatullah Shaidi, Gulbodin Naib, Samiullah Shenwari, Dawlat Zadran, Shapoor Zadran, Sharafuddin Ashraf
Who's their star player?
By far the best of the Afghan talents is Hamid Hassan, the rapid swing bowler who takes wickets for fun when his body permits. He currently has an ODI bowling average of a shade under 19 to go with his T20I figure of 14. He's quite simply a class up from any other non-Test bowler, and would be worth taking to Australia even if he's only half-fit, simply to use in the fixtures against Bangladesh and England; win those, and they might make the knock-outs.
Who do they have to pick?
Gulbodin Naib could be a real force on the pacy pitches down under. He showed his big-hitting prowess in the recently finished domestic series with 32-ball 85, including no less than eleven sixes, against a near-international attack. He's shown his prowess at other times, too, with a century against a star-studded Pakistan 'A' team and his rearguard 44 against England a couple of years ago. When you add decent bowling and lively fielding to the mix, and you'd be mad not to take a chance on him.
Fareed Ahmad shot to prominence with a startling 7 for 21 against Pakistan in his second match after a sixteen-month absence from the Under-19 squad. Since then, he briefly made the step up to the national side with a destructive five-for on first-class debut against Zimbabwe 'A'. It's very unlikely that he'll be called up for the World Cup, but there is precedence - Najeeb Tarakai got plucked from nowhere for the World Twenty20.
What are their prospects?
If they can click, the prodigiously talented Afghans could scare a Full Member or two out of their group. Unfortunately, they lack the discipline to do it on a consistent basis; they could just as easily beat England and lose to Scotland three days later.