Afghans sad for Shahzad, but keeping main aim on World Cup
TAUNTON, England (AP) — Such a big presence on and off the field, it made sense for Afghanistan's fledgling team to give Mohammad Shahzad as much time as possible to overcome a lingering knee injury at the Cricket World Cup.
The burly batsman and wicketkeeper will leave a big void, captain Gulbadin Naib said Friday, in the wake of confirmation Shahzad would be replaced in the squad ahead of Afghanistan's group game against 2015 runner-up New Zealand.
Shahzad is the kind of a character who attracts attention, be it for his occasional and outlandish helicopter shot — a big swipe — his positioning behind the stumps, or for his sense of humor.
He has been instrumental in Afghanistan earning a place alongside cricket's establishment teams, the top tier of so-called test-playing nations, barely a decade after a far-flung group of players who learned the game beyond the country's borders started to gain some traction.
But the knee wasn't getting any better and, like all good team players, it was time to put the team first after Afghanistan's losses to defending champion Australia and to 1996 champion and three-time World Cup finalist Sri Lanka.
"Shahzad is a great player for Afghanistan," Naib said, "one of the best players in Afghanistan now still, but (also) his last four, six years.
"We'll miss a lot of things about him. I'm really upset for him."
The 32-year-old Shahzad has scored 2,727 runs in 84 one-day internationals dating back to 2009, averaging 33.66 and scoring six centuries — including one against India at the Asian Cup last September. He's also taken 64 catches and completed 25 stumpings to ensure he has an all-round impact on the game.
His replacement will be 18-year-old Ikram Ali Khil, a wicketkeeper and left-handed batsman who has played two ODIs after his debut in March.
Naib said the promising teen would be welcomed into the squad after the decision on Shahzad's fitness was taken with "what's important for Afghanistan" in mind.
Doctors and physios were regularly consulted for the last two to three weeks, Naib said, because having Shahzad out in the field is a positive thing for the team. He was bowled without scoring in the first over of the tournament-opening loss to Australia, and scored seven in the loss to Sri Lanka.
Afghanistan has bigger stars, such as top-ranked spin bowler Rashid Khan, but Shazhad's influence goes well beyond bats and boundary ropes.
"Yes, Shahzad is very energetic. Also in the dressing room he's very funny," Naib said, laughing as he discussed what it's like having his veteran teammate around. "He entertains every time the team members. So we miss a lot of things.
"But ... what's the best for the country, we should go for that."
Afghanistan's next task is New Zealand, which is coming off back-to-back wins.
The New Zealanders, Naib said, "have plenty of experience. Trent Boult and also Matt Henry and the other guys, they have much, much experience. But we look forward for playing our natural game and the Afghan way."___