Afghanistan face Bangladesh in the first qualifying match in Group A of the ICC World T20 2014 © AFP
Afghanistan face Bangladesh in the first qualifying match in Group A of the ICC World T20 2014 © AFP

 

Afghanistan enter their third ICC World T20 and face Bangladesh first up, a side they beat during last month’s Asia Cup 2014. Nishad Pai Vaidya previews Afghanistan’s fortunes at the ICC World T20 2014.

 

Afghanistan’s ascent has been the most rapid and spectacular rise in recent times. From the smaller ICC World Cricket League divisions, this side made quick progress and are now competing at the highest level quite regularly. But, as they prepare for their third straight ICC World T20 appearance, there is a sense that they want to fit into the big league and make that final transition. This would be their most challenging task; there is a huge gulf between the highest level and the lower divisions. In a conversation with this writer in Sharjah last month, coach Kabir Khan said, “We don’t want to be happy by winning one game. The aim is to raise the bar and be consistent. At our level we have been consistent, but at the top level we haven’t shown that much.”

 

During the recent Asia Cup 2014, one would say that Afghanistan did live up to expectations. They gave Pakistan a huge scare and had they held a few chances during that game, perhaps an upset may have been on the cards. Having said that, their victory against Bangladesh is a huge boost ahead of the ICC World T20 2014. Beating India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka was a tall order, but they did extremely well to get the better of a side that isn’t as strong. It was their first major tournament in 50-over cricket and there is a lot they can learn from their experience.

 

T20 cricket is Afghanistan’s game. It is often said that the shorter the version, the better the chance weaker sides have. In One-Day Internationals (ODIs), a team may dominate during a particular phase, but sustaining that hold is what wins you games. Take the example of Afghanistan’s recent game against Pakistan. If one takes the first 20-30 overs into consideration, Afghanistan were the clear favourites. It was only Pakistan’s experience that ultimately prevailed and pulled them out of that muddle. In T20 cricket, you can change the course of the game, quite drastically at that, in one over.

 


ICC World T20 2014 schedule: Match time table with venue details


 

Kabir Khan did say last month that Afghanistan have to get the better of Bangladesh. With Hong Kong and Nepal completing their qualifying group, a victory against Bangladesh gives them a good shot at going through to the next round. This is what Kabir Khan said then, “We have played twice [ in World T20s], so that pressure would have been released now. T20 is more or less our game. So, why not try to go to the second round? If we have to go there, we have to beat Bangladesh. Otherwise you cannot.”

 

There are a few areas of concern though. The batting has shown a tendency to collapse despite having some talented players. When on song, they fearlessly take the attack to the bowling, irrespective of reputations etc. This line-up comprising skipper Mohammad Nabi, Mohammad Shahzad, Karim Sadiq and Nawroz Mangal has to blend into a unit for this tournament and deliver. In Shahzad and Sadiq, they have some very attacking batsmen and all they need is consistency.

 

The bowling looks good and can cause quite a few problems. Shapoor Zadran leads the pack and he would be their trump-card yet again. This bowling attack has to be backed by the fielding, which wasn’t quite up to the mark during the Asia Cup. The consistency in their performance would only come with regular contests with the big sides and Afghanistan have done everything to merit that.

 

Heading into the qualifying stages of the tournament, Afghanistan may all but seal their spot in the main round if they beat Bangladesh in the opening encounter. The other sides aren’t quite as strong and Afghanistan has enough power to beat them. Bangladesh presents that big test first-up. Given the result of their previous encounter, it is a big one for both sides!

 

(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and anchor for the site’s YouTube Channel. His Twitter handle is @nishad_44)