While England will look to get its campaign off to a good start, Afghanistan will hope it can exploit the conditions better
Having taken the cricketing world by storm with its fearless brand of cricket against India, Afghanistan will face an entirely different kind of challenge on Friday (September 21).
The lack of pace – and height – in India’s attack was right down Afghanistan’s alley as its batsmen found handsome reward for an attacking approach. How well Afghanistan’s top order copes against an attack that fuses pace, bounce and movement to a nicety will be of great interest at the R Premadasa Stadium.
England, the defending champion, is forewarned as it kicks off its Group A campaign in the ICC World Twenty20 2012. It knows what to expect from Afghanistan, and has enough nous and quality to counter Afghanistan’s no-holds-barred spirit that has won it so many fans across the world in the last 24 hours.
It’s unlikely that Afghanistan’s batsmen, not accustomed to playing the ball bouncing chest high, will relish what Stuart Broad, Steven Finn and Jade Dernbach or Tim Bresnan will dish out. It was spin that eventually proved Afghanistan’s undoing against India, but there is no disputing the fact that a serious pace test awaits it against England, a test that will make great demands on fortitude, character and technique.
“England is a totally different team compared to India,” said Kabir Khan, the Afghanistan coach. “They are ‘conditional’ bowlers, they bowl very well in England but they struggle outside and they have obviously struggled in Asia. We are going to exploit that.”
Those are brave words, words that might come back to haunt Kabir and his wards. England may or may not be aware of Kabir’s assertions; irrespective of, its energies will be directed more towards making an early statement of intent as it finds itself in the unusual position of being able to mount a title defence.
There is much England has done well in the last couple years, including climbing to the top position in both Test and One-Day International cricket, not long after it ended an agonising wait for a global title with success in the ICC World Twenty20 2010. That success was fashioned as much by collective effort as by the incandescence of Kevin Pietersen, the man of the tournament in the West Indies but now persona non grata so far as England is concerned.
The giant shadow of Pietersen, in international exile since the Lord’s Test against South Africa in early August, will loom large over England, more so with Pietersen currently in Colombo as an expert analyst for the host broadcaster. England will have to try and not be distracted by the Pietersen situation, something Broad and Andy Flower, the team director, will no doubt have impressed upon the squad.
England’s strength lies in the potency of its pace attack and a plethora of exciting, young batting talent, both of which should go some way towards making up for relative lightness in the spin department. Graeme Swann is a proven performer, of course, but England has often preferred Samit Patel, who can also bat, to Danny Briggs as the second spinner. Whether it will field all three is debatable, because that will irrevocably alter the balance of the side that has served Broad and Flower with such distinction in the recent past.
As much as Broad and his pace colleagues, a lot of the focus will be on the batting superstars in the making – Alex Hales, Jonny Bairstow and Jos Buttler. Eoin Morgan, pencilled in at No. 4, is the most experienced of the batting pack and will perform have to be the fulcrum around which the big hitters operate.
The English batting unit will get its first exposure to decent spin in a relatively low-pressure situation. Karim Sadiq and Mohammad Nabi, the two off-spinners, and Samiullah Shenwari, the leggie, may not be household names but they lack neither guile nor craft. Kabir expects his spinners to have a big say against England. “The way our spinners bowled against India shows their quality because Indians are among the best against spin bowling.”
It’s doubtful if Afghanistan knows any other way of approaching a game of cricket apart from what it displayed on Wednesday (September 19). All the risks came off against India; whether it will be as fortunate against a more incisive bowling attack will decide how competitive Friday’s lone fixture will be.