Advantage Afghanistan in spin-friendly Dehradun
In two weeks, Afghanistan's players will take part in possibly the most important game of their lives - their first ever Test match - and on Sunday, they will be preparing for it by going crash, bang, wallop in a T20I against Bangladesh.
If that seems a bit odd, don't worry, it's just the way cricket works these days. The BCB opted for T20s because Bangladesh don't play them often enough, and the Afghanistan Cricket Board, being the smaller board, had to oblige. The shortest format is right up Afghanistan's alley though. Their second-string side crushed Bangladesh by eight wickets in a warm-up match on Friday.
Afghanistan are also placed higher than Bangladesh in the ICC rankings. They trounced Zimbabwe in their most recent T20 series and possess a spin attack that has quickly become the envy of the world. With Mohammad Nabi, Rashid Khan and Mujeeb Ur Rahman, Afghanistan can bank on controlling more than half of their bowling innings.
To tackle them, Bangladesh will rely on the experience of Tamim Iqbal, Mushfiqur Rahim, Shakib Al Hasan and Mahmudullah, and hope Liton Das, Mosaddek Hossain and Sabbir Rahman live up to their promise. Their bowling will almost entirely depend on Shakib, but Rubel Hossain, Mehidy Hasan and Nazmul Islam can provide good back-up.
Mohammad Shahzad is expected to be a major threat in the top order, but Afghanistan's batting is otherwise an area of concern. Rahmat Shah, their highest run-getter and only centurion in the last 12 months, is not in the T20 squad. Given their focus on youth, Afghanistan will want one of the younger batsmen, like Darwish Rasooli and Najeeb Tarakai, to step up in this series.
In the spotlight
Bangladesh have already identified Rashid Khan to be their biggest threat. His stellar IPL campaign adds to his reputation of being a dangerous legspinner, particularly when he delivers them at a high pace.
Mushfiqur Rahim could be one of the Bangladesh batsmen best equipped to take on Rashid and the other Afghanistan spinners. He was a major reason for Bangladesh making the final of the Nidahas Trophy in January; his unbeaten 72 against Sri Lanka to help chase down a target of 215 was characterised by superb death-overs boundary-hitting and Bangladesh would love more of the same in Dehradun.
Karim Sadiq is the only Afghanistan player missing from the XI that beat Zimbabwe in their last T20I in February. Tarakai, who is returning after more than a year, would hope to take Sadiq's place in the batting line-up. Young allrounder Karim Janat and Under-19 batsman Rasooli also remain in contention.
Afghanistan (probable): 1 Mohammad Shahzad (wk), 2 Asghar Stanikzai (capt), 3 Najeeb Tarakai, 4 Mohammad Nabi, 5 Najibullah Zadran, 6 Shafiqullah, 7 Sharafuddin Ashraf, 8 Gulbadin Naib, 9 Rashid Khan, 10 Aftab Alam, 11 Mujeeb Ur Rahman
Bangladesh are searching for a replacement for Mustafizur Rahman, who is missing with a toe injury. And they are mainly looking at Abul Hasan, Abu Hider or Abu Jayed. Soumya Sarkar's spot in the line-up is also under threat with Mosaddek and Ariful Haque waiting in the wings.
Bangladesh (probable): 1 Tamim Iqbal, 2 Liton Das, 3 Mushfiqur Rahim (wk), 4 Shakib Al Hasan (capt), 5 Mahmudullah, 6 Sabbir Rahman, 7 Mosaddek Hossain 8 Mehidy Hasan, 9 Abu Hider, 10 Rubel Hossain, 11 Nazmul Islam
Pitch and conditions
The pitch was slow and low and two-paced on Friday. The one for the match doesn't look as soft but don't expect big fireworks. Advantage Afghanistan spinners. Weather is expected to be clear.
Stats and Trivia
- If he can pick up two wickets in the first T20I, Shakib will become only the third cricketer to take 500 wickets and score 10,000 runs in all formats of international cricket. Shahid Afridi and Jacques Kallis are the others, but they needed more than 500 matches to do so. Sunday will be Shakib's 300th.
- If he can take one wicket on Sunday, Rashid will become the fastest to 50 T20I wickets in terms of time taken - two years and 220 days - and second-fastest in terms of matches played.
- Mohammad Nabi is 39 runs away from becoming the fifth allrounder, after Afridi, Shakib, Thisara Perera and Dwayne Bravo to amass 1,000 runs and 50-plus wickets in T20Is.
- The Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium in Dehradun will become India's 21st venue to host T20 internationals.
Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84