Dealt a difficult hand, Gulbadin leading the way

Eleven years ago last month, Afghanistan were in Jersey playing the Bahamas in the second round of World Cricket League 5. To remind yourself of that is to remember just how far and fast they have come in the intervening time. That is a story well told but it does rather put into perspective their performances so far in this World Cup. They may have earned their place at this tournament but they are still the new kids on the block, elevated rapidly to a position of intense scrutiny and pressure. Gulbadin Naib knows all about that.
Like many of the Afghan players, Naib’s story is a remarkable one that started back in 2008 in Jersey. Then, as a fresh-faced 18 year-old, he took five wickets for seven runs against Bahamas, including a hat-trick, helping his team to a comprehensive victory. Afghanistan went onto win that tournament and two years later were playing in the World T20. Naib probably expected to be a fixture in the team. Instead, he found himself on the outside for the best part of nine years.
Naib, like so many other Afghan players of his generation, learned the game in refugee camps in Peshawar, Pakistan. War and conflict had driven his family away from their home. The camps were safer but basic needs such as electricity, water and sanitation were constant struggles. There wasn’t much of a choice, though. This was the only escape from the Taliban, bullets and conflict. Naib would eventually return to Afghanistan but he was formed in Peshawar.Cricket and bodybuilding gave him an outlet, something to take his mind off the daily grind. He had some talent, evident early, but he hardly got a look in after those five wickets in Jersey. Of Afghanistan’s first 19 matches with ODI status between 2010 and 2011, he played just one. In the following five years, he played just 16 ODIs. There were a few more T20Is but was never a regular in either side. Even when he felt he was playing well, he was left out. In the grand scheme of things, he had faced far greater challenges but it still hurt.Afghans aren’t a people to be underestimated, though and Naib, body chiselled from granite, is a strong man, outside and in. He kept working and finally became a regular in Afghanistan’s ODI side in 2017.Since then he has played 45 matches, missing just six. His record in that time is fine but no more, but he’s still there. But given he has only recently cemented his place in the team, and as a solid player rather than a star, it was a surprise that he was given the captaincy in April. From what he has said since, he still can’t quite seem to comprehend it.Asghar Afghan was removed just before the World Cup in a move that made little sense either for reasons of timing or squad harmony. Morgan to not influence fans against booing Warner, Smith.