Afghanistan prepare for USA fixture
As the Associate nations prepare for the World Twenty20 Qualifier tournament, which begins February 9 in the UAE, there is one fixture in Group A that jumps out at you. In perhaps the most intriguing sporting event of recent times, USA will face Afghanistan.
It's a match that will reverberate beyond the cricketing world as people try to imbue it with a progressive significance. Amidst all kinds of domestic turmoil Afghanistan have risen rapidly to become one of the best Associate nations and they will be desperate to secure a berth in the main World Twenty20, which takes place in West Indies in April.
They were within a whisker of qualifying for the 50-over World Cup last year and have impressed in the Intercontinental Cup, beating defending champions Ireland and the Netherlands.
"The match against the USA will be an interesting and exciting one," said Afghanistan captain Nawroz Mangal. "But it will just be another game of cricket in which both the sides will try as hard as possible hard to emerge winner. Like any other opponent, we respect the USA and know we cannot afford to be complacent against them.
"Initially, we started off with a reputation of being a good Twenty20 side because this is the format that is played and popular in Afghanistan. But in the last 18 months, we have shown that we can adopt and excel in any format. Personally, I believe we are a better Twenty20 side simply because we have more experience in the shortest version of the game.
"Our group is a tough one with Ireland and Scotland having loads of international experience. But I am quite optimistic that after narrowly missing out on next year's 50-over World Cup, we'll be able to qualify for the World Twenty20. We just need a good start in the tournament and our big boys need to fire throughout the next week."
For their part, the USA comes to this event plenty to prove. Having fallen down the rankings in recent years they only made it to the qualifiers as a wildcard entry, along with hosts United Arab Emirates.
"We are feeling very positive and very confident," said USA captain Steve Massiah. "Judging from the way we played in the last tournament, which was the Americas Cup, we feel good. We want to make the most of the opportunity to play in this event and we are all looking forward to it."
Keen observers will notice the name of Lennox Cush in the USA team, he was in the Stanford Superstars squad that defeated England in 2008, and Massiah wants to draw on his experience. "Lennox is very important as he has had the opportunity to play a lot of Twenty20 cricket and was part of that Stanford squad. He is very experienced and hopefully this will rub off on the other players."
Sahil Dutta is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo