It will be a David versus Goliath battle at the R Premadasa Stadium on Friday when defending champions England launch their World Twenty20 campaign against Afghanistan, who displayed enough fighting abilities in their opening fixture against India.
The minnows would surely be heartbroken following their 23-run defeat to India on Wednesday, but they can take heart from the fact that the former champions were made to toil hard.
The presence of Afghanistan in the island nation means they are one of the 12 best T20 teams in the world.
From fleeing their war-torn homeland, to staying in makeshift refugee camps and earning ODI status — the Afghan cricketers have indeed come a long way.
It’s been a huge leap for the impoverished South Asian nation to have made it to the World T20 for the second consecutive time.
“We have learned a lot. This is a learning phase for us.
From facing India and South Africa in the last World T20 to playing international matches against Australia and Pakistan, we have come a long way,” said Afghan captain Nawroz Mangal.
For Mangal, the most important thing is to prove people back home that “they belong to the world stage”.
Against India, while chasing 160, Afghan batsmen showed patches of brilliance in their stroke-making but sheer inexperience saw them get all out for 136 in 19.3 overs.
Mohammad Nabi cracked a 17-ball 31 while Karim Sadiq (26) and Mangal (22) also came up with handy contributions. Pacers Shapoor Zadran and Dawlat Zadran also bowled well in tandem, sharing three wickets between them.
However, Afghanistan’s sloppy fielding that resulted in them dropping as many as four catches, does not augur well for the side. Defying expectations, though, has become something of a habit for them.
On the other hand, England, looking to become the only team in the short history of T20 to have successfully defended the crown, will be on a high after posting wins against Australia and Pakistan, in their two warm-up games.
The English batsmen would however do well to pull up their socks if they are to fancy their chances of making the Super Eights as against Pakistan, they were shot out for a paltry 111 after opting to bat.
They made up for the batting failure by restricting Pakistan to 96 for nine on a bowler-friendly pitch at the P Sara Oval yesterday.
Danny Briggs, a 21-year-old left-arm spinner, claimed three wickets for 15 runs while seamer Jade Dernbach finished with three for 14, as Pakistan’s batsmen faltered against the pace-spin duo.
In batting, Luke Wright’s 38 off 36 balls was the only notable contribution as the other batsmen failed to apply themselves. England lost their last five wickets in the space of just eight deliveries.
In their previous warm-up game, England just about managed to secure a nine-run victory against Australia after overcoming Michael Hussey’s gutsy assault at Nondescripts CC.
Alex Hales, who has been called into the side as a replacement for Kevin Pietersen, looked good against the Aussies with his quick-fire half century.
England’s young guns — Luke Wright, Eoin Morgan and Jonny Bairstow — also warmed-up with useful contributions against their familiar foes.
England would like to keep the winning momentum going against Afghanistan, two days before the big-ticket encounter with India at the same venue on Sunday.
The Stuart Broad-led side would want its batsman to come good against the Afghans. A win will ensure a Super Eights berth for the champions even before they take on India in their second and final group league match.
A smooth start will certainly help the side hit a good rhythm, and the team management will have an idea about the performance of their preferred combination. (PTI)
Afghanistan (probable): Karim Sadiq, Asghar Stanikzai, Mohammad Shahzad (wk), Nawroz Mangal (c), Mohammad Nabi, Shafiqullah Shafiq, Gulbodin Naib, Samiullah Shenwari, Dawlat Zadran, Shapoor Zadran, Najibullah Zadran.
England (probable): Craig Kieswetter (wk), Alex Hales, Luke Wright, Eoin Morgan, Jonny Bairstow, Jos Buttler, Samit Patel, Graeme Swann, Stuart Broad (c), Danny Briggs, Jade Dernbach.
Time: 19.30 local (19.30 IST)