Defending champions aim for safe start
September 21, 2012
Start time 1930 local (1400 GMT/1500 BST)
The 2010 World Twenty20 passed without a significant upset in the group stage and this tournament has also gone to form so far. In the Caribbean, however, England only scraped through to the Super Eights on run rate, with the rain denying Ireland a chance to chase 121 for a victory that would have eliminated the eventual winners. In Colombo, against an Afghanistan side that soaks up goodwill with every impudent swat for six, there is fresh potential for England to add to a head-scratching collection of recent snafus that includes losing to Netherlands at Lord's in the 2009 World Twenty20 and Ireland and Bangladesh at last year's World Cup.
While Afghanistan, like Ireland, no longer benefit from the element of surprise - England will have watched their defeat to India, in addition to the hours of video analysis - the brio and verve that infuses their cricket still manages to act like an adrenaline shot. Afghanistan's effervescent rise in world cricket has not yet brought the scalp of a Full Member but the margins of defeat are getting smaller and a particularly poor display in the field, when they dropped four catches, was the main difference against India. That is an area Afghanistan must address but there is a sense that heroic near-misses will only suit them for so long.
For England, a win will produce no fanfare but would secure progression from Group A. Their status as both the No. 1 team and the defending champions sits uneasily with a young squad playing in unfamiliar conditions but two contrasting victories in tight warm-up matches suggest they have taken their preparations seriously. England will be happy to doff their caps respectfully and avoid a duffing up, otherwise serious questions will be asked. You imagine that Kevin Pietersen, in his role as a pundit for ESPN Star Sports, would be happy to field a few of them.
Afghanistan LLWWL (completed matches, most recent first)
Watch out for
In touching 150kph against India, Shapoor Zadran showed it is not just the raptor glare, flowing mane and arms-outspread celebration that remind the onlooker of Shoaib Akhtar. The difference is that Zadran is a left-armer but he wrought a familiar carnage opening the bowling against India. The R Premadasa pitch offered seam movement and bounce for Zadran and, although the focus has been on England's deficiencies against spin, Dale Steyn showed over the course of the last two months that raw pace never goes out of fashion.
While 32 not out is not a high score to make bowlers quake, the fact that Jos Buttler nonchalantly carved 30 of those runs off one Wayne Parnell over (that included two no-balls) changes the equation somewhat . Buttler has a cool head to go with his power and invention and must now trade the pressure of proving himself for the weight of expectation. His last T20I innings was a Fabergé egg but England will hope for something more on the scale of an ostrich's in the near future.
Nawroz Mangal unexpectedly promoted himself to opener against India but Javed Ahmadi could return to the side, perhaps in place of Najibullah Zadran, who batted at No. 9 and did not bowl. Mohammad Shahzad had to hand the gloves to Karim Sadiq midway through the India innings, due to a knee problem, while Afghanistan also have fitness concerns over senior fast bowler Hamid Hassan, who was injured while playing for an ICC Combined XI against England back in January and has only bowled once for his country since.
Afghanistan (possible) 1 Mohammad Shahzad (wk), 2 Javed Ahmadi, 3 Nawroz Mangal (capt), 4 Karim Sadiq, 5 Asghar Stanikzai, 6 Mohammad Nabi, 7 Samiullah Shenwari, 8 Shafiqullah, 9 Gulbodin Naib, 10 Dawlat Zadran, 11 Shapoor Zadran
England have had a settled line-up in T20 cricket this year and they may decide that now is not the time to start experimenting. Luke Wright has seemingly confirmed himself as Ravi Bopara's replacement at No. 3 after impressing during the warm-up matches and the main question is whether they will play another spinner. If they stick with the three-man pace attack and attempt to rough up Afghanistan on a quick pitch, Danny Briggs could be the man to miss out. A bold move would be to note the problems of Afghanistan's batsmen when pace was taken off the ball and play Briggs.
England (possible) 1 Craig Kieswetter (wk), 2 Alex Hales, 3 Luke Wright, 4 Eoin Morgan, 5 Jonny Bairstow, 6 Jos Buttler, 7 Samit Patel, 8 Stuart Broad (capt), 9 Graeme Swann, 10 Steven Finn, 11 Jade Dernbach
Pitch and conditions
This will be the third match of the competition to be played at the R Premadasa stadium but it is unlikely the pitch will have become too worn yet. Australia's quicks showed how to bowl on the surface, though Zaheer Khan and Irfan Pathan suffered against Afghanistan. If a forecast rain shower appears in the morning, that may liven things up even further.
Stats and trivia
- This will be the first meeting in international cricket between England and Afghanistan.
- The England squad contains seven of the starting XI from the 2010 World Twenty20 final.
- Mohammad Nabi's career strike-rate of 146.73 from 12 matches is better than that of any Englishman ever to play T20Is.
"England is a totally different team compared to India. They are 'conditional' bowlers, they bowl very well in England but they struggle outside and they have obviously struggled in Asia. We are going to exploit that."
Afghanistan coach, Kabir Khan, isn't too worried about his batsmen's chances
"We have to accept there might be a few nicks fly past the wicketkeeper, and a few smashes over extra-cover and 'cow'."
England captain, Stuart Broad, knows what is coming
US readers can watch the match live here, coverage starts 30 minutes before the game begins.
Alan Gardner is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo