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Afghanistan V West Indies World T20 Preview - Match 30

Brave Afghanistan eyes winning farewell against table-topping West Indies

26 March 2016 19:00 By Saurabh Somani, Nagpur

A semifinal in Mumbai beckons West Indies, but first it has to get through an Afghanistan side, which is more than keen to leave the ICC World Twenty20 2016 with a win against a top team.

In Group 1, West Indies strolled to victory against England, swatted Sri Lanka aside and held its nerve in a tight contest against South Africa to assure itself of not only a spot in the last four, but also the top spot in the group in all probability. It might just feel that the hard yards have been done in the group phase, but if at all there was any complacency, the tough win against the South Africans on Friday would have sharpened its edge.

The match will be played on Sunday (March 27) on a VCA Stadium surface that isn’t exactly conducive to West Indies’ expansive, stroke-playing style. But with a win under its belt, it will be better equipped to deal with the pitch. For Afghanistan, it’s a happy homecoming of sorts, having played the first round of the World T20 at this very venue and won all three matches.

West Indies has never played Afghanistan in a Twenty20 International – or any other international – but in Phil Simmons, the coach, it has someone who is very familiar with the team, having seen a fair bit of it when he was coaching Ireland.

Familiarity with the venue and the sluggishness of the surface will be Afghanistan’s biggest allies in its attempt to topple West Indies. It will rely heavily on the spin duo of Samiullah Shenwari and Rashid Khan, while the likes of Mohammad Shahzad and Mohammad Nabi will be expected to give the batting heft. “They’ve played well in all the games. They’ve batted really well, (especially when) they were chasing a big score against South Africa,” said Simmons. “I know them from before, so I know that they’re going to come to try and win. We’ve got to just play properly.”

Even so, the relative strengths of the teams and the fact that West Indies has already qualified might tempt the Caribbean side into giving those on the bench a go to keep them match-fit. Simmons, however, kept his cards on the playing XI close to his chest, saying that nothing had been decided yet.

The fact that this will be an afternoon match, coupled with the nature of the pitch, might mean someone like Ashley Nurse could get a go, but there is something to be said for continuity in the team also – especially because the semi-final in Mumbai is likely to be on a batting surface. After that, if it makes the final, the track in Kolkata is again different. “There’s always work to be done. There’s always improvement that can happen. We played the first two games on good wickets and then came to this,” said Simmons. “At the end of the day, when you’re winning tight matches like that on a difficult wicket, you know that you’re moving forward, so we’ll take that. In the same way, we started in Kolkata (warm-ups) so we have a fair idea of what it is like. It’s not as slow and turning as much as this.”

For Afghanistan, this is its last high-profile match for a while, and apart from the natural desire to win a competitive game, it is also the last chance to leave an indelible mark on the biggest stage. “When we first appeared in that World Cup in West Indies (in 2010), we were only thinking that we are playing with big names and most of us were very impressed with the players around,” said a candid Asghar Stanikzai. “This time, we are not only participating in this tournament but we were serious about it. If you see our last three matches, especially against Sri Lanka and England, we have played very good cricket. To be honest, we could have won that because we knew the strength of our team but somehow we did errors and mistakes that’s why we couldn't finish on a winning note. If you compare 2010 with 2016, there is much difference in the Afghanistan team and in next one or two years, we will be a serious team and beat these full members very easily as we have potential in this team.”

Brave words from the Afghanistan captain. If it can match those with brave deeds, Afghanistan might just be able to pose a challenge to the mighty West Indians.

Teams (from)
West Indies: Darren Sammy (capt), Samuel Badree, Sulieman Benn, Carlos Brathwaite, Dwayne Bravo, Johnson Charles, Andre Fletcher, Chris Gayle, Jason Holder, Evin Lewis, Ashley Nurse, Denesh Ramdin (wk), Andre Russell, Marlon Samuels, Jerome Taylor.
Afghanistan: Asghar Stanikzai (capt), Amir Hamza, Dawlat Zadran, Gulbadin Naib, Hamid Hassan, Karim Sadiq, Mohammad Nabi, Mohammad Shahzad (wk), Najibullah Zadran, Noor Ali Zadran, Rashid Khan, Samiullah Shenwari, Shafiqullah, Shapoor Zadran, Usman Ghani.

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