Afghanistan behind Ireland, Netherlands in T20s
After their spirited showing in the recently concluded Asia Cup, Afghanistan have captured the imagination of the cricketing world as no other Associate team has in recent times. Their recent performances have put them behind Ireland in the pecking order of Associate teams that are closer to laying their claim on playing at the Test level. Come Sunday, Afghanistan will get another opportunity to show that their win against Bangladesh was no flash in the pan as they play the hosts again in the opener of the qualifying stage.
However, Afghanistan's record in T20s does not do justice to their recent form. Their win-loss ratio of 1:1 in T20s (including non-international matches) is lower than those of Ireland and Netherlands - the other Associate teams in this tournament that have played T20 internationals. But Afghanistan's head-to-head record against these two teams shows how rapidly they have come up to speed with them. They have won two of the three T20Is they have played against Netherlands. Against Ireland, Afghanistan have managed two wins in five T20 internationals, with Ireland managing to trump them on the last couple of occasions.
In T20 matches against the Test teams, Netherlands have the best record of the three, having registered two wins - against England in the 2009 World T20 and Bangladesh - in four matches. While Afghanistan have lost all the five T20Is they have played against Test teams, Ireland - who won the World T20 Qualifier last November and are the top Associate team - have managed only two wins out of the 14 T20 internationals they have played against Full Members.
Afghanistan's loss to Ireland in the final of the World T20 Qualifier last year has put them in Group A where they join Bangladesh, Nepal and Hong Kong. While their unbeaten record against Nepal (3-0) and Hong Kong (1-0) suggests that Afghanistan are likely to outshine them, they should find the going tougher against Bangladesh - a team that would be keen to set the records straight after their loss in the Asia Cup.
Bangladesh themselves are not new to being upset in this format, having lost once each to three of the four Associate nations they have played against. They lost two of the last three T20s they played against Associate nations. Nepal, who were the third Associate team after Ireland and Afghanistan to qualify for this World T20 are fresh from their win against UAE in the playoff for the third place in the qualifier tournament. Hong Kong were the sixth-placed team in the qualifier tournament. Barring any unlikely upsets, the first match of the qualifying stage between Bangladesh and Afghanistan should decide who goes through from Group A. The fact that Bangladesh have lost their last 10 games in the World T20, and have an ordinary record overall in T20s, should not amount to much given their experience and the weaker oppositions they are up against.
Ireland, UAE and Netherlands join Zimbabwe - who are yet to play a T20 match against these teams - in Group B. Zimbabwe's ordinary record in T20s could mean that Associate teams have a better chance of qualifying from this group. Since their first T20 international win against Australia, in 2007, Zimbabwe have managed only three wins - one each against Canada, West Indies and Bangladesh - in 26 matches. Overall, in T20s (international and domestic), Zimbabwe have won only six out of 37 matches. Their win-loss ratio of 0.20 in all T20s is the second-worst among teams (international and domestic) that have played at least 30 matches. In spite of their rather bleak record in T20s, they will pose a formidable challenge to the other teams in the group: the last time Zimbabwe played an international game, they beat Pakistan in a Test in Harare last September.
Ireland haven't played Zimbabwe in T20s but have an unbeaten record against UAE and Netherlands. They have played UAE in four T20s and have won all of them. Against Netherlands they have won two of the three games, with one ending without a result. UAE are no push-overs either, having beaten Netherlands in both the matches they have played against them. Ireland look the likely team to qualify with only Zimbabwe - in keeping with their reputation of being a Test team - capable of upsetting their plans.
Shiva Jayaraman is a sub-editor (stats) at ESPNcricinfo