It would be hard to find a cricket team more upbeat at the moment in the world than Afghanistan.
Having already won three matches in this ODI World Cup – two more than it managed across the 2015 and 2019 editions – Afghanistan has its semifinal fortunes almost entirely in its hands.
On Friday, it will take on another side punching above its weight – the Netherlands, at the Bharat Ratna Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee Ekana Cricket Stadium in Lucknow.
The Dutch, who are coming on the back of a tournament-reviving win against Bangladesh, are the only ones to have conquered the high-flying South Africa in this tournament.
Both Afghanistan and the Netherlands will ponder deeply about the yet-to-be-used red soil pitch at the Ekana Stadium, which is expected to help the spinners.
Afghanistan will be served well by its well-rounded bowling unit, led by the dependable Rashid Khan. Considering the conditions, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Afghan think-tank opts to bring back the hugely impressive left-arm wrist spinner Noor Ahmed, who delivered a match-winning performance against Pakistan.
A four-pronged Afghan spin attack – comprising Rashid, Noor, Mujeeb ur Rahman and Mohammed Nabi – might prove to be a little too much for the Netherlands, considering the fact that it is the second-slowest team against spin in this World Cup ( 4.70 runs per over), only ahead of Bangladesh.
The Netherlands though can bank on the experience it gained by playing at this venue earlier in the tournament.
In that match, against Sri Lanka, he compiled a decent first-innings total of 262, thanks to lower-order fifties from Logan van Beek and Sybrand Engelbrecht. But the Lankans fought back to secure a five-wicket win, following a lackluster outing from the Dutch bowlers.
Afghanistan’s sparkling run in this World Cup is also an output of a relentlessly consistent batting unit, which has been firing in unison. It has five batters who have scored 200 runs or more in this World Cup – a number only matched by India and South Africa, who are sitting on top of the table.
Afghanistan has also been efficient in chases, winning its last two matches in the tournament by hunting down targets. Its win against Pakistan in Chennai was also its biggest chase in ODIs.
The Dutch though have had a torrid time with the bat in this World Cup. The Netherlands sits at the bottom of the table for runs scored, batting average and runs per over in this World Cup. On Friday, it will have its task further cut out against a bowling unit of serious pedigree.
Afghanistan also enjoys an upper hand when it comes to head-to-head records. The Afghans have won seven times in their nine matches against the Netherlands. The two teams last played each other, in a three-match ODI series in 2022, with Afghanistan sweeping the series.
Dutch all-rounder Colin Ackermann though was quick to brush away his side’s unfavorable numbers against Afghanistan.
“Those games were quite a long time ago. We were also a very different team back then. The team was quite inexperienced on that tour, so we’re not going to look too far into that fixture,” said Ackermann.