Afghanistan have pace to test India
In their preparations for a first World Cup appearance, Afghanistan have already won two more matches in Australia than India have managed in a tour lasting nearly three months.
Defeats of a pair of club teams are modest achievements, but given the enormous progress made by Mohammad Nabi's team in recent times, including victories over Bangladesh, Zimbabwe, Scotland and Ireland, they will fancy at least pushing India, as they did against Australia in Sharjah in 2012.
The primary reason for Afghanistan's success since their rise through the ranks of the Associate nations has been a superior bowling ensemble. Hamid Hassan and Shapoor Zadran offer a tandem of pace and bounce worthy of most Full Member attacks, and the comparison with India's bowlers, carted for 371 by Australia at Adelaide Oval on Sunday, will be informative. Nabi said his pacemen had already enjoyed the conditions down under, and beyond India, can look forward to facing Australia on the WACA Ground.
"Hopefully we try our best to perform well in that game [against India], to better prepare for the first game against Bangladesh, and hopefully we beat India," Nabi said. "Because the boys have prepared very well for the last few months, and we played two warm-up games as well with the Western Australia clubs and we beat them. We've had quite good preparation.
"It's totally different conditions from Asia, and we've already been to Australia and New Zealand before the World Cup. It's quite a good experience for the boys. Hopefully we play well in Perth against Australia. We have good fast bowlers as well like Shapoor, Hamid and Dawlat Zadran."
Afghanistan were more bust than boom at last year's World Twenty20 in Bangladesh but, Nabi indicated lessons had been learnt and that a squad tailored to Antipodean conditions is targeting a first-up victory over Bangladesh as the platform for an unlikely run at the quarter-finals. Victory there would mean qualification was possible if they went on to beat Scotland and one of Australia, New Zealand, England or Sri Lanka.
"The last few months the team has done very well because we put some youngsters in the team, taking them from Under-19s," Nabi said. "We brought 20 players to Australia and New Zealand the last few months, and we looked to the boys, who is the best players to play in the World Cup, and then we selected the 15. There are a few senior players dropped from the side, like Mohammad Shahzad, Karim Sadiq, and Noori [Noor Ali Zadran]. Noori is injured, but the two or three players are dropped from the side because they're not suited for the conditions.
"The main goal is to beat Bangladesh in the first match. We've prepared for the last three months. We will try to best perform very well in the World Cup. Hopefully we go to the second round, as well.
"The last few years we've played against a few members, some of them, like Australia, India, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, as well, and we already beat Bangladesh and Zimbabwe in home series. The boys have confidence to perform better than the last World Twenty20, we didn't perform very well [then], but we hope in the World Cup we perform very well."
The story of Afghanistan's rise has captured many an imagination and Nabi spoke eloquently about his team being a source of hope and optimism for a country without peer for the hardship inflicted upon its citizens by years of war and strife. They have known real tragedy, something that must help them to remember the blessing of travelling the world and playing the game they love.
"It's the biggest tournament in the world, and also for Afghanistan. It's our dream to be here and everyone is rooting for us back home," he said. "To play in the World Cup is a big opportunity for the cricket [team], as well the nation, and to mention 'Afghanistan advance in the World Cup' is a big opportunity.
"If you saw the news at home, everywhere there's fighting. If there's positive news like Afghanistan playing cricket in the World Cup, it totally changes the mind back home and also in the world, as well."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig