'We rate ourselves highly' - Mangal
For all the goodwill and excitement Afghanistan have generated with their heady rise, it does not change the fact that they are quite a raw side at the top level, and that they understandably view their second World Twenty20 as a learning experience. Causing an upset will be an unbelievable high, of course, but more than that, Nawroz Mangal, their captain, wants to show the world that Afghanistan can compete at the highest level in international cricket.
"It is a learning phase for us and coming into this World Twenty20, the expectations are quite high," Mangal said. "Everyone is saying Afghanistan is capable of creating an upset. We will put up a good show to prove that we belong to this stage."
Afghanistan have played just four games against Test-playing sides till date, losing by big margins. They will meet their first Test-level opponents, India, again tomorrow, after going down to them by seven wickets in the 2010 World Twenty20. Mangal said the side that walks out on Tuesday evening will be completely different to the one from two years ago. "India is a big team. We are very excited and looking forward to this game. Tomorrow you will see a different team from what we were in the last World Twenty20."
It will be a "totally different appearance" from Afghanistan tomorrow because they have progressed vastly since the previous World Twenty20, according to Mangal. "We rate ourselves highly. Boys have done brilliantly since last World Twenty20. We have much improved cricketers now in the team, bowling, batting or fielding.
"Playing India and South Africa in the last World Twenty20 and after that we played a wonderful qualifier event...some of our main players were missing in that but we still played really well to qualify. After that, we played Pakistan and Australia and according to cricket experts, our performance was good. This time, we can learn a lot from the India game and [hopefully] put up a good show and give them a hard time."
Mangal said Afghanistan had done their homework when asked about their preparations against a good spinner such as R Ashwin. "We have done brilliantly in the past against quality spinners. We played [Saeed] Ajmal in the Pakistan game and yesterday, we played [Sunil] Narine, and we haven't seen difficulties. We have done our homework against Ashwin. Hopefully the batters can cope and deliver."
Afghanistan's rise has found tremendous support back home and the side's manager Shafiqullah Stanikzai said there was widespread awareness in the country about their participation in the World Twenty20. "The support is quite huge. Almost everyone knows that Afghanistan are in Sri Lanka and participating in the World Twenty20. More than 50-60 people from Afghanistan have contacted me for tickets. Every single Afghan is supporting the Afghan national cricket team."
Abhishek Purohit is an editorial assistant at ESPNcricinfo