A data-driven strategic guide on how to beat Afghanistan.
Par totals can be enough
Afghanistan are a bowling-heavy team who rely on their bowlers to win them games. Their batting lacks elite pedigree and is more of a match-facilitator than a match-breaker. As a result teams playing against Afghanistan should not need to score well above par to be competitive and must be careful not to concede much above par when bowling first.
Consider batting first
Afghanistan’s bowling strength informs their tactics at the toss which generally sees them opt to bat first and post a total which they can then defend with their strong bowling attack. Since the start of 2018 Afghanistan have opted to bat on 18 of the 23 occasions when they have won the toss and have a better record when setting totals than chasing them. Particularly on used pitches that might make batting against spin in the second innings more difficult, teams should consider batting first to try and neuter Afghanistan’s strength.
Attack with the new ball
Taking early wickets is obviously always a good thing but it is particularly effective against Afghanistan whose batting order is quite top-heavy and whose middle order is more inclined towards powerful finishes than rebuilds. Since 2018 no team has a bigger difference between their balls per wicket in the Powerplay when they win (33.5) and lose (12.9) as Afghanistan. In matches they win they only lose one Powerplay wicket but in matches they lose they lose three.
Attack the middle order with high pace and bounce
The opening pair of Hazratullah Zazai and Rahmanullah Gurbaz have fairly decent records against high pace and bounce but Afghanistan’s middle order is clearly susceptible against it. Mohammad Nabi, Najibullah Zadran and Rashid Khan in particular have really struggled against balls above 140 kph over their careers. Since the start of 2018 Afghanistan have been one of the weakest teams against high pace and short bowling.
Pick good players of spin
Afghanistan’s spin attack is probably the best in the tournament. It is clearly their trump card and teams who set-up against them without good players of spin could find themselves in trouble. Conditions may make life more difficult for Nabi but Mujeeb Ur Rahman, Qais Ahmad and Rashid are all good enough to transcend them. Of the teams in Afghanistan’s group Australia are probably regarded as the weakest against spin but the individual head-to-head records of their players against the spin trio is fairly healthy. England’s batters on the other hand have struggled.
Target the pace bowlers & Nabi
Unsurprisingly given the strength of Afghanistan’s spinners, opposition teams would be sensible to target Afghanistan’s pace bowlers. Their pace attack has improved in recent times thanks to the emergence of Fazal Farooqi and Naveen Ul-Haq who are good T20 bowlers in their own right. However, they – and the all rounder Azmatullah Omarzai – do clearly represent a step down in quality from the spin trio of Rashid, Mujeeb and Qais. In matches that Afghanistan lose since 2021, the mystery spinners average 29 at an economy rate of 6.94 while their pace bowlers average 37 at an economy rate of 9.11.
Notably Nabi is also a bowler that can be got after. In matches that Afghanistan lose he averages 44 and has an economy rate of 8.46. Nabi is familiar with Australian conditions thanks to his time with the Melbourne Renegades but across his career at the club his bowling numbers have steadily deteriorated. Nabi’s lack of mystery may be exposed in what are generally difficult conditions for finger spinners.
Be wary of back-loaded Rashid
Another common tactic employed by Afghanistan is back-loading Rashid. Rather than introducing him into the game early Afghanistan prefer to use him in the second half of the innings: 71% of his balls in T20Is have come after the ten over mark compared to 58% in domestic cricket. If teams aren’t aware of it then they can sleepwalk into situations where they need to play catch-up against the world’s best bowler. Even those teams that are aware can get into trouble because it encourages them to be more attacking in the first half of the innings to get ahead of the game which can risk top order collapses.
Freddie Wilde is head of Performance Analysis at CricViz.