How far can Afghanistan's six-centric approach take them?

Hazratullah Zazai swivels on one leg while pulling powerfully ICC via Getty

It was the batting approach that defined the most successful men's T20 international side of the last decade: why worry about minimising dot balls when you can hit more sixes than the opposition? West Indies embraced that volatile, high-risk, high-reward strategy on their way to winning the 2012 and 2016 World Cups but it has faltered so far in the UAE: lose to Bangladesh on Friday and they will effectively be knocked out less than a week after their title defence began.

But West Indies have natural successors as the poster boys for their focus on six-hitting. In the five-and-a-half years between men's T20 World Cups, Afghanistan were by far the closest team to West Indies in terms of balls per six, dot-ball percentage, and ratio between fours and sixes. They have adopted a similar gameplan: packing their batting line-up with power-hitters rather than strike-rotators, and accepting that occasional low scores were worth the trade-off. "Boundary-hitting and outscoring the opposition in terms of boundaries is very important to your chances of success in T20," Andy Flower, their consultant coach, said in the build-up to this tournament.

In their opening Super 12s game, they put it into practice. Of the 120 balls they faced against Scotland in Sharjah, one-third were dots - but 13 were hit for four and 11 more for six as they racked up 190, the highest total of the tournament so far and one that will prove difficult to beat as the pitches get slower. Given the strength of their spin attack - and Mujeeb Ur Rahman and Rashid Khan, who shared nine wickets between them against Scotland, in particular - there will be few teams looking forward to playing against them.

It would be easy to dismiss Monday night's win as flat-track bullies cashing in against an Associate nation and it is true that Scotland lack an express fast bowler or an established wristspinner, but their attack conceded just 6.60 runs an over across their other four games in this tournament. What's more, Afghanistan's total was exactly one run more than they managed in their final warm-up game - fittingly, against West Indies - and their second-lowest total in their four T20Is this calendar year.

Like West Indies did in 2016 with Marlon Samuels, Afghanistan have one 'firewall' player in their batting line-up in Asghar Afghan, whose job will be to arrest a collapse in the event of early wickets by playing lower-risk cricket before cashing in at the back end. He is carded at No. 4 but was not required in the top five against Scotland, and could slide down as low as No. 8 or 9 beneath lower-order hitters if the situation dictates.

Around him, Afghanistan have created a side filled with explosive hitters. Mohammad Shahzad marked his return to international cricket after a two-year absence by hitting the first ball he faced against Scotland for six, taking down a favourable match-up when they tried to sneak in an early over of part-time offspin, and will open with Hazratullah Zazai (T20I strike rate: 154.65).

Rahmanullah Gurbaz, the dynamic 19-year-old seen as Afghanistan's most promising young batter, will come in at No. 3, while Najibullah Zadran - whose 103m hit against Scotland was the biggest six of the Super 12s to date - is a middle-order floater and Mohammad Nabi, Gulbadin Naib, Rashid and Karim Janat offer lower-order power. Against Scotland, they maintained a left/right-hand combination throughout the innings so that one batter would have access to the short boundary at all times.

But Pakistan, their opponents on Friday, will present a stern challenge. They have restricted India and New Zealand to 151 and 134 respectively in their first two games and their attack is an enticing combination of left-arm swing, two right-arm quicks, and three different types of spinner. With the game played in Dubai - where even West Indies' power-hitters have struggled to clear the vast boundaries - Afghanistan's batters will need to strike a balance, looking to target specific bowlers when match-ups are favourable.

"We don't have that kind of mindset that we just have to focus on hitting many sixes. You have to adjust yourself with the wicket as well," Rashid said on Thursday in a virtual press conference. "Initially it's very hard to go out and start hitting sixes and that's what happened in the last couple of warm-up games against West Indies and also the main game against Scotland: the openers took a bit of time in the middle and they read the conditions, they read the situation, and then started going hard.

"It's all about targeting your own bowler and when you get that, you have to target that. It's not about just going across for every ball. Whenever we get the opportunity to score some runs and we get the balls in our own zone, we as a team, we have that planning that we just need to go there and finish it with full confidence.

"It's not just about hitting too many sixes. These grounds are very hard to hit sixes [on], the wickets are not as good to hit the sixes. But still, taking ones, twos and boundaries will be something that is very key."

As ever with Afghanistan, there is a wider context to their performances. This World Cup is their first series since the withdrawal of US troops and the Taliban's takeover and while Rashid insisted that "things are getting better, getting normal back home", he reiterated that it was crucial for his team to "give [people] the kind of performances and kind of wins that they can celebrate" at a time of upheaval and distress.

"We have only this thing in the mind: that we're here for the World Cup," he said. "We're playing five games and we need to win three games. We have the skills and quality in the team that we can qualify for the semi-finals. That's the only thing at the moment in the mind of each and every player. You can only do what's in your hands.

"It's in our hands to play the five games of this group stage and try to qualify to the semi-finals and make the country proud." If their batting line-up clicks on Friday, they will be well-placed to do just that.