ICC Cricket World Cup 2023 – Rahmat Shah, the wonder of Afghanistan’s band of T20 stars

Among T20 bashers, Afghanistan have found someone who can absorb pressure, bat time, and grind out attacks

Deivarayan Muthu

Rahmat Shah remained undaunted even in the face of pressure AFP/Getty Images

In recent times, Afghanistan has been a hotbed of T20 talents. Noor Ahmad was just 14 years old when he made it to the IPL auction shortlist in 2019. Last year, a 15-year-old mystery spinner was on the IPL auction shortlist. The white-ball Afghanistan side is dripping with plenty of T20 experience and class with no place for Qais Ahmad and Waqar Salamkheil who are T20 globetrotters in their own right.

Azmatullah Omarzai and Ibrahim Zadran are not yet in the big league spotlight, but they have already tasted the Bangladesh Premier League (BPL).

Rahmat Shah was the standout in the Afghanistan team. He is the least experienced T20 player in the side and has never played in a T20 league outside Afghanistan. His ODI strike rate of 71.28, for a minimum of 100 innings, is one of the lowest in the history of the format.

Former Afghanistan coach Phil Simmons called Rahmat the most technically sound batsman in the side before they made their Test debut against India in 2018. In 2019, he backed up that claim by becoming the most Afghanistan’s first Test centurion. In the same year, he faced 390 balls in the ODI World Cup in England, scoring 254 runs.

No other Afghanistan batsman has scored more runs than him in that tournament. But more importantly, no other Afghanistan batter has faced more balls. Afghanistan have finally found someone who can absorb pressure, bat time, and grind out attacks. The landscape of ODI cricket has changed a lot since then, but Rahmat hasn’t changed much in his game, though he has added more shots to his repertoire like the reverse-sweep.

His batting is still based on defense and stickability. Against the Netherlands in Lucknow, he walked out to bat in the sixth after the early dismissal of Rahmanullah Gurbaz and defended strongly. He then gets to the mark with a defensive extension – shows the full face of the bat and drives it straight down the ground for four. It is played with the quietest heads and straightest bats.

You can understand why Simmons is so impressed with him. New coach Jonathan Trott has also been impressed with Rahmat’s approach, which has a calming effect on the entire batting line-up. Afghanistan scored 31 boundaries in total during their famous dismissal of Pakistan in Chepauk, but it was Rahmat’s long straight drives, with technical precision and finesse under pressure, that singled out for special praise by Trott in the post-match press conference.

“I thought the players in the middle, their emotions were amazing,” Trott said in Chennai. “I think there is a historic victory like this for the players, you can easily get ahead of yourself or get a little nervous or panic. some things, some singles he could have taken to get the pressure on himself, but the shot he played there to hit a straight six kind of broke the back of the game and the way the captain [Hashmatullah Shahidi] also plays, you know, takes the pressure off the changing room. So, [it is] nice feeling.”

Starting with the match against Pakistan, Rahmat made three consecutive half-centuries in the chase, all of which resulted in victories. All told, he controlled 278 of the 329 balls he faced this World Cup, according to ESPNcricinfo’s logs. He doesn’t have the power to launch big hits, but his ability to hold one end makes the rest of the batting line-up go for the hits. The emergence of Ibrahim – and the coming of age of Shahidi – has added greater strength to the Afghan line. It is no longer the side that is easily destroyed.

“As you can see, 50-over cricket is a long season and you have to, I think, ride the kind of ebbs and flows of a game. The thing that I’m really happy about from the last game is “We lost a wicket in the first over and you know Rahmat Shah was able to go at No. 3 and take the pressure off but still keep scoring at a good pace,” Trott said. , aiming to chase against Sri Lanka. “So that showed the ability to increase the pressure at times, which is what you need to do in 50-over cricket, but also to accelerate at times.

“So, I want and try to enable the batters and give them the game and help them grow in the game so that they can have both sides of the game. Pressure, soak it, rotation of the strike, and obviously accelerating and boundary -hitting.”

Rahmat did the same against the Netherlands and kept his team alive in the World Cup. Can he do more of the same on Tuesday when Afghanistan meet heavyweights Australia at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai?

Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

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