Afghanistan focused on keeping slim chances alive
It is a mark of how intently Afghanistan have focused on beating sides above them in the global pecking order that their captain, Mohammad Nabi, was unaware that his team would notch a first World T20 win if they overcome Hong Kong on Tuesday.
Afghanistan's rise to becoming one of the leading second-tier sides is a tale no less inspirational for the frequent telling and they added another track to their greatest hits earlier this month with a first ODI win against a Full Member. Bangladesh, beaten on their own turf in the Asia Cup, exacted a clinical revenge on Sunday and extended Afghanistan's World T20 record to played five, lost five.
That record is nothing to be ashamed of, as their previous opponents at the 2010 and 2012 competitions have been India (twice), England and South Africa. Nepal, another side with aspirations of upsetting the established order, got on the victory board at the first attempt with a giddy thrashing of Hong Kong but it is clear a similar result will do little to soothe Nabi and his players, who must rely on Bangladesh making an almighty hash of one of their two remaining games to sneak through.
Nabi did describe the prospect of Afghanistan's first win as a "huge honour" when it was pointed out but you could tell that he was unable to generate much enthusiasm for the thought of beating a fellow Associate once more. The nature of their defeat to Bangladesh, by nine wickets, and a feeling that the dice were loaded against them on a sharply spinning pitch seems to have dampened spirits.
"Yesterday was a bad day for the Afghanistan cricket team. Bangladesh asserted their home advantages quite brilliantly and they were the better team," he said. "We are working since the Asia Cup to prove our existence on the biggest stage, unfortunately we couldn't repeat our performance last night. But our aim is to prove our supremacy among the Associates and Affiliate members and we would like a much better performance in the upcoming games."
Beating both Hong Kong and Nepal, something they have done regularly in the past, by wide margins may see them into the Super 10 stage but Nabi did not seem overly hopeful.
"It's a big blow because this was our main chance to go to the next round," he said. "We will try to win both matches and then see how Bangladesh play. If they lose we have a chance to go to the next round."
A charismatic side whose success at Associate level has made them a lodestone for the likes of Hong Kong and Nepal, Afghanistan may need to develop subtler attributes in order to making a further leap forward. Mohammad Shahzad fell trying to clout the first ball of the match out of the ground against Bangladesh and his team-mates subsequently managed to combine furious attack with slow run-scoring before being bowled out for 72.
Nabi, however, was more concerned by the Mirpur surface, which was ably exploited by Shakib Al Hasan, Abdur Razzak and Mahmudullah. The Zahur Ahmed Chowdhury pitch has revealed itself to contain a deal more life and should be to Afghanistan's liking. Nabi got runs at the ground in a warm-up win over Netherlands last week and, although Hong Kong have a probing pace attack, Afghanistan will be favourites to reassert themselves and break their run of World T20 defeats.
"It's not a good start, first ball, first wicket," Nabi said of their performance in the tournament opener. "It put a bit of pressure on the team. For the second wicket we had a good partnership but Shakib and Razzak bowled brilliantly and also the behaviour of the pitch was not good, that's why we struggled.
"We played our first warm-up match at this ground, it was a good pitch, little bit seaming but the ball was coming on to the bat. The last match the pitch was a bit difficult, it had more turn and our players are good stroke-players and if the ball comes on to the bat they will do well."
Alan Gardner is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here