Ikram Alikhil was not supposed to be in this tournament, and when he made it here, he was not supposed to bat top order. The way he played the West Indian bowlers today, both of these decisions seemed like massive errors.
Ikram looked class, or as the cricketers like to say, different gravy.
After the match, the shy Ikram said, "It was a huge surprise for me to get selected when [Mohammad] Shahzad got injured, and I am really thankful to the cricket board that I got this opportunity."
They should be thanking him.
Watch on Hotstar (India only) - Ikram's 86
The timid batsman against Pakistan was replaced by a young player with a lot of shots, who moved his feet wonderfully well. He whipped a ball effortlessly from off stump to fine leg, hit straight drives that should be framed, and used his feet - back and front - well to the spin.
Being that he is fit, runs fast, and can play all around the wicket, he looks like the kind of player Afghanistan can hope to find more of. Gulbadin Naib suggested more like Ikram exist, "He is a young player, he played good cricket at Under-19 World Cup, and he proved himself there. We gave him the chance, we have more talent in Afghanistan, so this kind of performance, like Ikram, I can hope that other guys, if you give the chance, they can prove as well."
You could argue they gave him two opportunities, the first to play - his wicketkeeping does look polished - but then also to go in early. On his promotion, Ikram said, "Initially [the team sent me in] at number eight or nine, but I would always prefer to bat at the top [of] the order as that is what I have done at the Under-19 level. But there were senior players there, so it was difficult for me to find my spot. But the team management decided that for the games against Pakistan and West Indies I'll get the opportunity to bat top three."
In a team with so few well-rounded batsmen who can construct patient and yet quick innings, it seems incredible that you'd hide a player of this kind of game down the order. He's also shown he can play for the situation. "Against Pakistan the plan was to occupy the crease for as long as I could, that is why I scored 24 off 66 balls, but here we were chasing 312 runs, so the idea was to accelerate as much as we could and rotate the strike."
It was against spin that Ikram looked his best, but he also scored well against seam. "I prefer to play spin more than fast bowlers, but the coach recently started peppering me with fast bowlers to prepare me for the challenge."
Ikram did miss out on his century, but he was the top-scorer for Afghanistan and became the third-youngest player in a World Cup to make a fifty. Gulbadin still wanted more. "I am upset he missed his World Cup century."
With the kind of composure, footwork and strokes that Ikram played, an ODI hundred should be part of his future.