Back in 2003, when Afghan cricket was in its infancy, young Asghar Stanikzai, - a tall, wiry 16-year old with hair tinted red with henna - was the star of Taj Malik’s cricket academy in Kabul. At a selection camp ahead of the sides’ tour to Pakistan five wickets and a solid 65 in a trial match against a side cobbled together from the international security forces stationed in the country, the story goes, made him the first name on the team sheet.
From that point on Stanikzai, now known as Asghar Afghan, was a firm fixture in the Afghanistan batting line up through their rise, through the WCL and to eventual permanent ODI status and then Full Membership. For the last four years he had served as captain in all formats, and his ouster immediately before the World Cup came as a shock to fans and players alike, with both former captain Mohammad Nabi and Afghan’s T20 replacement Rashid Khan publicly opposing his sacking.
Asghar, for his part, appears to have received his demotion with the same phlegmatic, stoical spirit with which he met his fluctuating form and fortunes throughout his career. Though he is reported to have missed the team’s warm-up tour to South Africa, he himself appears, at least publicly, to be perfectly reconciled to his new role as specialist batsman and elder statesman of the side.
His record with the bat in ODI cricket is actually rather modest, his 2,013 ODI runs coming at an average of just 24 at a strike rate of 64.5. The occasional purple patches that would shore-up his place in the side generally followed by long fallow periods that saw him repeatedly stuck with the label of specialist captain. He would seem to be in the midst of one such purple patch at the moment however, since coming back from an appendectomy that interrupted his World Cup Qualifier (where Afghanistan were nearly eliminated in his absence) he has looked the part of a top order batsman.
He was the Afghans’ stand-out batsman during the recent series against a visiting Ireland, hitting 226 runs at an average of 75, and if he can carry that form to England he will doubtless be an asset to what remains a brittle batting line-up, as well as a font of advice for the neophyte skipper Naib.
Afghan is an experienced and capable presence in the middle order, and will be an important source of support and insight in the field for captain Naib.