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Don't count out Afghans

Shapoor Zadran is one of the Afghanistan bowlers to watch.

For the next two weeks or so millions of Afghans will be focused on something other than American troops, suicide bombers, the Taliban and hard times.

That they have made it to the Twenty20 World Cup in Sri Lanka is in itself already a massive victory, taken into consideration available resources and instability at home. Fledglings in international cricket, they nonetheless come from a region in the world where cricket is perhaps only second in popularity to the Koran. They are a team on the rise and over the past three years have shown encouraging signs of development, including qualifying for this tournament with some solid cricket.

Among their achievements thus far are: Victory over Scotland by 7 wickets in the 3-day International Cricket Council Intercontinental Cup match to win the trophy December 4, 2010; received the silver medal in the 16th Asian Games in Guangzhou, China; winners of the Asian Cricket Council (ACC) Twenty20 Cup 2009 on November 30, 2009; participated in the International Cricket Council’s World Cup Qualifier. Finished 5th in the Super Eight, beat former World Cup player Scotland twice; achieved One-Day International status in April, 2009; won Pepsi International Cricket Council World Cricket League Division 3; won Asian Cricket Council U-17 Challenge Cup in 2008; won Pepsi International Cricket Council World Cricket League Division 4 in 2008; came in third in the Asian Cricket Council Trophy Elite in 2008; and won International Cricket Council World Cricket League Division 5.

Afghanistan have played most of their cricket among the associate members with just two T20s against Test teams in South Africa and India which they lost. They have played a total of 11 T20 internationals, winning six and losing five. They are competing in Zone A along with India and England. A number of the Afghan cricketers play their domestic cricket in neighbouring Pakistan.Afghanistan’s top batsman has been Mohammad Shahzad who has scored 312 runs in 11 matches at a strike rate of 112.23. Fast bowler Hamid Hassan, with 14 wickets in eight matches, has been the Afghans best bowler in this format. Right-handed batsman and off-spinner Mohammad Nabi is another player on whom Afghanistan will pin much of their hopes for some upset results.

Kabul-born Nawroz Mangal leads the squad which is coached by former Pakistan Test cricketer Rashid Latif.

Swift improvement

Afghanistan have shown swift improvement on the international stage and as part of their preparations for this tournament, they recently defeated a Barbados team in a Trinidad and Tobago T20 tournament.

One of their main strengths has been their indomitable spirit, not surprising given their socio-political history. In sub-continent conditions with which they are familiar and with the under-dog tag, fans will be urging them on toward some possible upset results. But defeating one of the major Test-playing nations will call for something quite spectacular. Expect Afghanistan to show moments of great promise before succumbing of the pressure the ‘bigger’ teams.

Afghanistan play their first match of the tournament against India on September 19.

Tournament predictions: Afghanistan will get valuable exposure but will not advance into the second phase of the tournament.Squad: Nawroz Mangal (captain), Gulbodin Naib, Mohammad Nabi, Najibullah Zadran, Samiullah Shenwari, Asghar Stanikzai, Dawlat Zadran, Hamid Hassan, Javed Ahmadi, Shapoor Zadran, Izatullah Dawlatzai, Mohammad Nasim Baras, Karim Sadiq, Mohammad Shahzad, Shafiqullah.

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