A lot was made of Afghanistan’s meteoric rise a couple of years ago, when they achieved ODI status and qualified for the Caribbean edition of this tournament. Not much has followed, however. Through the game’s bureaucracy, lack of financial support or a failure of the bigger teams to extend an olive branch (other than Australia), the Afghans have been treading water among cricket’s smaller fries.
September 2012, though, affords them another chance to strut their stuff on the ICC’s big stage. Limited-overs cricket, as shown by Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, will always be the place for upsets, and their fellow Group A competitors will sooner be caught sleeping than underestimate their opposition.
Afghanistan sport a formidable spin duo in Samiullah Shenwari and Mohammad Nabi and, although not of the calibre of, say, Saeed Ajmal and Shahid Afridi or Ravichandran Ashwin and Harbhajan Singh, the pair will test many a batsman this month. A leg-spinner is always particularly dangerous, with Shenwari one of a handful on show.
All picked for the ICC Combined Associate and Affiliate XI that held their own against England in the UAE earlier this year, wicketkeeper-batsman Mohammad Shahzad, all-rounder Nabi and seamer Hammid Hasan will count themselves as the team’s engine room, and rightly so. A team lined with inexperience needs its relatively wise, old owls to step up.
While fellow minnows Zimbabwe and Ireland have enjoyed competition against each other – and South Africa – of late, Afghanistan are short on match practice against tough opposition, bar the one-off ODI against Australia. Instead, they’ve made do with matches against Caribbean and Bangladesh domestic outfits.
In fact, they’ve played only three T20Is (not one in 2011) since their qualification for the 2010 World Twenty20. Their dearth of experience in a format that demands quick adaption is, indeed, glaring.
Grouped with South Africa and India the last time around, Afghanistan would have been hoping to catch a break this year. Alas, they’ve instead been pooled with reigning champions England and inaugural winners India.
One To Watch
Top of the pops with bat and ball during September’s trip to Port of Spain, Mohammad Nabi picked up on his fine form against the Australians, who will attest to his sound middle-order hitting and tidy off-spin. Wickets and runs against Barbados and Trinidad & Tobago are not to be scoffed at, particularly his ability to succeed on pitches considerably more difficult than he will encounter on the sub-continent.
Karim Sadiq, Javed Ahmadi, Asghar Stanikzai, Mohammad Shahzad (wicketkeeper), Nawroz Mangal (captain), Mohammad Nabi, Samiullah Shenwari, Najibullah Zadran, Hamid Hassan, Dawlat Zadran, Shapoor Zadran.
Leftovers: Shafiqullah Shafiq, Gulbodin Naib, Izatullah Dawlatzai, Mohammad Nasim Baras.
v India at R Premadasa Stadium, Colombo on 19 September, 14:00 GMT
v England at R Premadasa Stadium, Colombo on 21 September, 14:00 GMT