Cricket-Uncertain future looms over Afghanistan's campaign

FILE PHOTO: Cricket - ICC Cricket World Cup - Bangladesh v Afghanistan - The Ageas Bowl, Southampton, Britain - June 24, 2019 Afghanistan's Mujeeb Ur Rahman celebrates after dismissing Bangladesh's Shakib Al Hasan with an LBW Action Images via Reuters/John Sibley

DUBAI (Reuters) - In a perfect world, Afghanistan would have been directing their entire focus on making the knockout stage from a difficult group but in reality, they will be competing at the Twenty20 World Cup aware of the uncertainty looming over the team's future.

Afghanistan's remarkable rise has been cricket's most heart-warming story in recent times and their growing stature is reflected in their automatic qualification for the Super 12 stage as a top-eight team.

They, however, risk isolation following the country's Taliban takeover in August and Australia have already refused to host them should the Taliban ban women's cricket in the country.

The governing International Cricket Council (ICC) will also discuss the issue in a board meeting next month and this is hardly an ideal build-up for Mohammad Nabi's team.

Nabi's appointment as leader of the side itself was not without drama.

The all-rounder landed the job only after star spinner Rashid Khan spurned it minutes after being put in charge, saying he had not been consulted while picking the squad.

Afghanistan need a top-two finish to make the last four from a group that includes former champions India and Pakistan as well as New Zealand, who have reached the final of three of the last four major global events.

They will once again rely on their spin trio of Nabi, Rashid and Mujeeb Ur Rahman to restrict opponents and defend whatever totals their modest batting line-up can post.

Rashid and Mujeeb are currently among the top-five bowlers in this format, while Nabi is the leading all-rounder in the official rankings.

"It's really good that we have quality spinners in the in the squad," Nabi said in the pre-tournament interaction.

"These 12 overs are really important. Sometimes you need a wicket-taking bowler, sometimes you need a more economical bowler... We have all these slots both in the fast and spin bowling."

Batting remains a major worry for the Afghans, who have roped in former Zimbabwe captain and England men's team coach Andy Flower to address that.

"I played under his coaching in CPL (Caribbean Premier League) and also in T10 (in UAE) as well. He's a great coach and also a great mentor for the players... He knows everything about the UAE pitches and these conditions."

Afghanistan begin their campaign on Monday against a qualifier in Sharjah.

(Reporting by Amlan Chakraborty in Dubai; editing by Pritha Sarkar)

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