Thrust into the captaincy after the controversial ouster of Asghar Afghan, Gulbadin Naib was for many a surprising choice to lead Afghanistan into the World Cup. Despite an international career spanning well over a decade, Naib had long struggled to cement his place in the side or define a clear role within it.
Naib was the junior member of the squad at the outset of Afghanistan’s long march through the divisions of the World Cricket League, the sometime body-builder picked primarily as a medium-pace bowling all-rounder when he earned his first national cap at WCL Division 5 in Jersey back in 2008, making his senior international debut against Japan. Naib bowled just 11 overs in that tournament in the end, taking 5 wickets against the Bahamas, and was dropped immediately after, spending the remainder of Afghanistan’s dramatic rise through the ranks largely on the sidelines.
His time in the wilderness was brought to an end when he won a central contract in 2011 ahead of Afghanistan’s campaign in the then Intercontinental One Day Cup (later redubbed the World Cricket League Championship). Over the three years of the competition, Naib established himself as the troubleshooting utility player of the side, adopting a floating role in the middle order and dependable change bowler.
Often overshadowed by the sides’ flashier batsmen and showier bowlers, Naib’s uncomplicated, muscular approach to batting and nagging medium pace is unlikely to turn heads or generate headlines, but what sets him apart is a transparent eagerness to step up in pressure situations. Always wanting the ball even when the runs are flowing, Naib also notably put his hand up to open the batting at the World Cup Qualifier in Zimbabwe when his side were shaken up by a disastrous start that had almost seen them eliminated in the group stages, and performed creditably in the unfamiliar role.
As much as for his batting or bowling, both of which are best described as “useful” rather than “game-changing,” it is likely the persistence and unflappability that Naib shows on and off the field that has won him the captaincy, and it could be that as skipper Afghanistan’s floating utility man can finally make a role his own.
For all the controversy around his appointment, Afghanistan’s new captain has a creditable never-say-die attitude both on and off the field, perhaps in part a product of his own personal battle to nail down a place in the side. Heading to England as underdogs, Afghanistan will doubtless find themselves under the pump as often as not. With Naib at the helm, however, down will rarely mean out.
Naib will likely play a floating role in the batting order and act as a third seam option.