"He [Ikram] played really well. But he missed a century in a World Cup, it would have been a big achievement for anyone" - Naib. Getty

Eighteen-year-old Ikram Alikhil was surprised to find out that he would have to step down from the comforts of his No.3 batting position while stepping up from youth cricket to senior cricket. The teenager, who scored a fine 80 at one-drop against Australia in the Under-19 World Cup semifinal last year, found himself walking in at No.9 in a tense chase against India, having to take quick runs off the No.1 ODI bowler Jasprit Bumrah.

When the big shots proved beyond the teenage keeper-batsman, the team management decided to accommodate the youngster in the top order in order to extract the best out of him. He scored a very sedate 24 off 66 against Pakistan and when he was moved further up to No.3 for the final game against West Indies, he responded to the reunion with his preferred batting slot by becoming the youngest half-centurion in World Cup history, surpassing Sachin Tendulkar. Ikram's 93-ball 86 kept Afghanistan afloat in a stiff run-chase of 312 at Leeds, before their lower order unravelled to leave the team 23 runs short of the target.

The decision to play a non-power-hitter such as Ikram at numbers 8 and 9 earlier in the campaign was among other perplexing decisions made by the Afghanistan camp during the course of the 2019 World Cup, including sending home Mohammad Shahzad and Aftab Alam, dropping in-form players from the XI to making way for the return of their more experienced colleagues and playing only two fast bowlers on a green-top in Cardiff.

Captain Gulbadin Naib, who admitted to making mistakes through this a-lesson-a-minute campaign, defended the decision to play Ikram in the lower-order, citing his own move up to opening the batting after a full year for the team's greater cause. "Yeah, he [Ikram] played really well. But he missed a century in a World Cup, it would have been a big achievement for anyone," Naib said. "He played a lot of cricket back home in the last two, three years. So also he played good cricket and Under-19 World Cup so this is why we gave the opportunity to him.

"[But] if you look properly, we didn't give chances for every player in a fixed position in the batting order. If you look for the players, like me especially, I [usually] bat at No. 7 or 6 or 8. I just jump to the top for the last four, five games. It's a team requirement. The position is just a number. I opened the batting in qualifiers in Zimbabwe and I'm here [doing the same]. It's a team requirement. If you play with a big heart, any position is good on you. It's not a big problem for anyone."

Need to improve fitness standards - Naib

Distraught at not having won a single game despite a string of close contests in the second-half of the league phase, Naib lamented his side's inability to live up to the sky-high expectations from them following their spirited show in the multi-national Asia Cup tournament last year, where they beat Sri Lanka, tied with India and lost a thriller to Pakistan. "First three games we played really badly. I accept it. Like against Australia, New Zealand, and Sri Lanka. Yeah, you target some games here like against Sri Lanka, Pakistan. Like we played quite well against India. And also against West Indies. But I'm not happy with the team performance," he said.

The captain, however, took aim at the falling fitness standards of the team, suggesting a lack of professionalism from the team in that discipline. "Fitness is a big issue for our team. So if you're not fit, nothing will go well on you. We should improve our cricket. We should improve our skills and we should improve every department now of our cricket. We didn't give 100 percent to what the audience expected from Afghanistan. So I say sorry to my fans, to my country, to my audience," Naib added.

The 28-year-old said that Afghanistan would take the lessons as well as the positives from the World Cup into their next assignments as they'll get into the next ICC ODI Championship cycle that'll determine qualification to the 2023 World Cup in India. "We achieved a lot of things in a very short time. So it's cricket. Sometimes it happens," Naib said. "The World Cup is not the end of our cricket.

"I'm hoping Afghanistan will be in the next World Cup. In the coming two, three years Afghanistan should be in the top five, six [teams] insha'Allahwe look forward. But have to learn a lot of things. We take positive things from here. We did a lot of mistakes. We should learn from that."