The Afghanistan vs Bangladesh T20I series was seen as an evenly matched contest in a neutral country with neutral fans. But two T20Is into the series, Afghanistan have stamped down their authority over a depleted Bangladesh side owing to some brilliant spells from their spinners who have bamboozled the Bangladesh batsmen.
Rashid Khan, Mohammad Nabi and Mujeeb Ur Rahman have hogged the limelight with their on-field heroics and have been pivotal to Afghanistan's maiden series win against Bangladesh. As they step out one final time at Dehradun to counter the Tigers, Afghanistan will know they are now favourites to inflict a whitewash.
None of Bangladesh's batsmen, including the experienced Tamim Iqbal, Mushfiqur Rahim, Shakib-al-Hasan and Mahmudullah, have shown the temperament or the technique needed to handle the Afghanistan spinners and they would be looking to make amends in the final match.
The Tigers play for pride in the third T20I. While their spinners have done reasonably well, their death bowling needs massive improvement. And the batting needs to click big time.
The spin puzzle
Led by the charismatic Rashid Khan, Afghanistan spinners have taken 12 of the 18 Bangladesh wickets to fall in the series. Remarkably, the wickets have come at a stringent economy of 4.34 which shows just how good the trio has been in strangling the batsmen. With the Dehradun surface expected to remain dry and assist turn, Rashid and Co would be licking their lips to have one final go at the clueless Bangladeshi batsmen.
The Bangladesh spinners haven't been mightily impressive as the Afghanistan spinners but they have done decently in patches. The spinners have conceded 136 runs from 22 overs at an economy rate of 6.18, picking up just five wickets across two games. Picking up wickets is the need of the hour. Their seamers have been as poor as Afghanistan's which puts extra pressure on the spin trio of Shakib-al-Hasan, Nazmul Islam and Mosaddek Hossain, to come good. The Tigers might ponder bringing in Mehidy Hasan Miraz to boost the spin department at the expense of Abul Hasan or Abu Jayed. However, looking at the larger picture, they need to find a good wrist spinner for the future.
Afghanistan batsmen have stepped up
That their spinners were the architects of two fabulous wins is beyond question but Afghanistan's batsmen, often written off for their agricultural stroke making and lack of temperament, have managed to stick to their plans in the two matches. Mohammad Shahzad and Usman Ghani have provided decent starts in both games and the aggressive push in the death overs has come from Samiullah Shenwari, Mohammad Nabi or Shafiqullah Shafiq.
Afghanistan scored a handy 167 in the opening T20I and followed it up with a comfortable run chase in the second, chasing down the target of 135 with six wickets and an over to spare. In recent times, they have managed to register 150-plus scores regularly while batting first, a clear indication that their batting is gaining in experience and skill.
One area they might be of a little concern is the form of their skipper, Asghar Stanikzai. Not the most stylish of batsmen, Stanikzai seems to be struggling for his timing against the Bangladesh spinners. Afghanistan will hope that the captain and Najibullah Zadran finally come good in their bid to sweep the series in their adopted home.
Bangladesh's death bowling
One major area for Bangladesh to focus would, of course, be handling the Afghan spinners. Decoding the likes of Rashid and Mujeeb is a tough task. One option could be to play eight overs of cautious cricket but that would require strong support from their bowlers, especially at the death.
In the first T20I, they gave away 62 runs in the final four overs with Abu Jayed and Abul Hasan going for 20 and 18 runs respectively. They switched to Shakib-al-Hasan and Mosaddek in the next game but a late onslaught from Mohammad Nabi on Rubel Hossain sealed the game for Afghanistan.
Bangladesh need to get their priorities and tactics right and save Shakib or Mosaddek for the death alongside Rubel. Someone like Mehidy Hasan is capable of doing well with the new ball. This would enable them to leave an extra over for Shakib in the final few overs, hence reducing the load on the hapless seamers. Of course, things change once Mustafizur Rahman is back from injury but for now, they seem to have no other option.
Time to go for the final kill?
With the series already won, the Stanikzai-led unit would be tempted to test their bench strength but it will be a difficult decision considering that they are on the cusp of inflicting a whitewash.
Darwish Rasooli and Gulbadin Naib are decent batsmen waiting in the wings and one of them could come in for a top order batsman. But if they really wish to send strong signals to India, Afghanistan need to be ruthless in this final T20I.
Bangladesh, on the other hand, would look for drastic improvement. Despite the Bangladesh Premier League being a competitive tournament back home, the country is woefully behind others in the T20I arena. From Shakib's captaincy to their death bowling and batting, everything about Bangladesh have gained negative reviews in the past one week. They need to turn things around and quickly. A whitewash will only rub salt into their wounds. A better all-around effort is the need of the hour.
Afghanistan: Mohammad Shahzad (wk), Usman Ghani, Asghar Stanikzai (c ), Najibullah Zadran, Mohammad Nabi, Samiullah Shenwari, Shafiqullah Shafiq, Rashid Khan, Karim Janat, Mujeeb Ur Rahman, Shapoor Zadran.
Bangladesh: Tamim Iqbal, Liton Das, Sabbir Rahman, Shakib Al Hasan (c ), Mushfiqur Rahim (wk), Mahmudullah, Mosaddek Hossain, Mehidy Hasan, Abu Hider, Rubel Hossain, Nazmul Islam.