Afghanistan's rise has been a heartwarming tale, and now the team looks up to the challenge of going to the next level
Afghanistan is gearing up for its second straight appearance at the ICC World Twenty20, where it is placed in Group A, alongside India and England, the defending champions.
Its rise as a cricketing force is a heartwarming tale. To play against the Test nations just over a decade after being granted Affiliate membership by the International Cricket Council is no mean achievement.
From being in division five alongside teams like Botswana, Japan and Nepal in the ICC World Cricket League in 2008 to competing with the likes of Ireland, Scotland and Netherlands in the ICC Cricket World Cup qualifier a year later, the rise has been meteoric.
As Afghanistan heads into the ICC World Twenty20 2012, it would be well aware of the tough challenge that awaits it. For a side who put up a fight in its two outings against India and South Africa in West Indies in 2010, a victory may be a distant dream, but it can certainly compete, as in the lone One-Day International against Australia in Sharjah in August, where it lost by just 66 runs.
The Afghanistan Cricket Board has done well to arrange a series of warm-ups in the lead up to the ICC World Twenty20 2012. Afghanistan will play Trinidad and Tobago and Bangladesh in a T20 triangular series in Port-of Spain before rushing back across the globe to Colombo for its warm-up match against West Indies on September 17. Its opening fixture is slated for September 19 against India, and the second match against England on September 21.
Key to the Afghan fortunes in the batting department will be Mohammad Shahzad and Karim Sadiq, who have been consistent performers in the Pepsi ICC World Cricket League as well as the ICC World Twenty20 2012 qualifiers in the United Arab Emirates. They've more often than not provided the team with flying starts. Shahzad's quality was further established when he notched up consecutive fifties against an England attack of Stuart Broad, Steven Finn, Tim Bresnan and James Anderson in a warm-up game in Dubai in January.
The bowling will be spearheaded by Shapoor Zadran and Dawlat Zadran, while the spin department will be guarded by Samiullah Shenwari, Afghanistan's leading wicket taker in ODIs with 27 victims at 26.66. Mohammad Nabi adds variety to the line-up as an all-rounder, who can wield the willow in the middle order, as well bowl some offbreaks.
Afghanistan will also be boosted by the inclusion of Hamid Hassan, the 25-year-old paceman, who is recovering from knee and quad injuries. Hassan, nicknamed ‘Rambo’ for his aggressive nature, underwent a knee operation and was in danger of missing out on the tournament.
He took 12 wickets in Afghanistan’s qualification for the ICC World Twenty20 2010, but has since struggled with fitness problems. He has so far taken 24 wickets in 14 one-day matches and 14 from eight Twenty20 matches.
Afghanistan made its one-day international debut against a Test-playing nation when it played Pakistan at Sharjah in February 2012. Although, it went down by seven wickets, the performances were encouraging. The most refreshing aspect of their game was fearlessness, illustrated when Shahzad, their wicketkeeper, reverse swept Saeed Ajmal for a six off the very first ball he faced.
The fact that some of its players like Hamid Hassan and Karim Sadiq were considered good enough to be a part of the the ICC Associate XI in a warm-up against England in January means that their quality hasn't gone unnoticed.
Having trained in the heat and humidity of Sharjah and Dubai, adjusting to conditions in Sri Lanka should not be a tough task. It is a question of translating all the potential into performances.