BASSETERRE, Saint Kitts and Nevis (AFP) — West Indies and Afghanistan get a three-match T20 International series underway at Warner Park in St Kitts on Friday with the visitors desperate to make an impression against the reigning kings of the game’s most abbreviated format. Yet despite their status as World T20 title-holders, the fact that the hosts are available at all to take on the fast-improving Afghans in the T20 matches in St Kitts followed by three One-Day Internationals in St Lucia is an embarrassing reflection of their continuing decline in the 50-over version of the international game.
This two-week campaign in the Caribbean is overshadowed by the Champions Trophy in England, featuring the top eight nations in ODI’s.
Afghanistan’s historic first series against the West Indies is only possible because the 2004 Champions Trophy winners and twice-beaten finalists failed for the first time to qualify for a global International Cricket Council event and are also in danger of having to go through a qualifying tournament next year in Bangladesh to get to the 2019 World Cup, also to be played in England.
Since the dramatic victory over England in the World T20 final 14 months ago in Kolkata, West Indies have won just two of nine T20 Internationals. In sharp contrast, Afghanistan are on an 11-match winning streak although the significance of that achievement is tempered by the fact that 10 of those wins were also against Associate Member nations, the lower rank of competing countries under the banner of the ICC.
Ironically, the run of success was started against the West Indies at the World T20 in India where Afghanistan, in their first and so far only meeting at senior international level with the Caribbean team, sneaked a six-run run win against a sloppy and clearly complacent foe who had already qualified for the knockout stage of the competition.
West Indies can afford no such luxuries this time around and captain Carlos Brathwaite, the hero on that memorable night in Kolkata, needs to recapture his most devastating batting form while expecting his senior players to also step up to the challenge and show that the surprise loss to the Afghans a year earlier was just a one-off setback.
A strong squad including such celebrated names as Kieron Pollard, Lendl Simmons, Marlon Samuels, Sunil Narine and Samuel Badree should have too much experience and expertise for their opponents, although Afghanistan underscored the strength of their bowling resources with a 12-run win in a low-scoring warm-up match against a West Indies Cricket Board President’s XI at Warner Park on Wednesday.
Defending a total of 115 for nine, the tourists’ effective combination of pace and spin kept the home side in a stranglehold to the extent that they were limited to 103 for nine in reply. Leg-spinner Rashid Khan, who with Mohammad Nabi made history this year as the first Afghan players to appear in the Indian Premier League, was the star of the bowling.
Following on the impact he made as a member of the Sunrisers of Hyderabad in the IPL just a couple weeks earlier, Khan produced the outstanding figures of three for 11 off four overs to deservedly earn the man of the match award.
But the reliability of their batting is a genuine concern, especially in the absence of attacking wicketkeeper-batsman Mohammad Shahzad, who is serving a suspension following a positive test for a banned substance earlier this year.
Whatever their chances though, it is the Afghans who have nothing to lose coming into this series while the Caribbean audience, although not totally enthused by the upcoming matches, will have more than a passing eye on the unfolding events in St Kitts and the following week in St Lucia as they search for signs of significant improvement in an assignment that has all the potential to be trickier than the hosts might otherwise expect.
West Indies: Carlos Brathwaite (capt), Evin Lewis, Chadwick Walton (wicketkeeper), Lendl Simmons, Marlon Samuels, Jason Mohammed, Kieron Pollard, Sunil Narine, Jerome Taylor, Samuel Badree, Kesrick Williams
Afghanistan: Ashgar Stanikzai (capt), Usman Ghani, Gulbadin Naib, Samiullah Shinwari, Mohammad Nabi, Karim Janat, Shafiqullah Shafaq (wicketkeeper), Najibullah Zadran, Rashid Khan, Amir Hotak, Shapoor Zadran