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April 28, 2010
Afghanistan's fairytale has gone truly global. After narrowly missing out on qualification for the World Cup they carried all before them to secure a place in the Caribbean. In the space of a few years they have become one of the most talked-about sporting teams in the world and the tales of the players who have emerged from refugee camps are already the stuff of legend.
The traditional leading Associates have admitted to being surprised by the skills of Afghanistan and Kabir Khan, the former Pakistan quick who is now their coach, has moulded a team with some highly skilful and flamboyant players. Mohammad Nabi, an offspinning allrounder, and Hamid Hassan have benefited from time with MCC Young Cricketers while Mohammad Shahzad wrote his name in the record books with an unbeaten double hundred as Afghanistan chased an incredible 494 in a recent Intercontinental Cup match against Canada.
So far during their stunning rise from Division Five of the World Cricket League to a place at a global event they continually managed to lift themselves to a new level, but now they need to retain realistic objectives.
"People love the game in Afghanistan. We're not afraid of anyone because we have nothing to lose, and nobody knows Afghanistan," said Hassan. "This will be the first time we're playing on the big screen, the first time people will see us, so we hope we can show them how good we are."
They earned a place in this tournament by winning the qualifying event in UAE where they overcame defeat against Netherlands to beat the hosts and book a place in the final alongside Ireland. Both teams knew they were heading to West Indies, but Afghanistan bagged the silverware with an eight-wicket victory.
Strengths and weaknesses
They are a tightly-bonded team who don't take a backward step regardless of the opposition. At the lower-levels of the WCL it raised a few eyebrows, but that competitiveness has carried them a long way, often when few gave them a chance. However, they find themselves in a tough group alongside India and South Africa and it will be the first time the batsmen will have faced genuine pace in the likes of Zaheer Khan and Dale Steyn. There will also be the pressure of appearing in front of a global TV audience who have heard plenty about Afghanistan's exploits.
Hamid Hassan is a vital member of Afghanistan's attack in all forms of the game, but in Twenty20 he is held back until the closing overs and, at Associate level, has often been able to stop the opposition racing away.
Mohammad Nabi was spotted by Mike Gatting with a hundred against an MCC touring side in India and was invited to join the Young Cricketers. He has since become a major force in the Afghanistan side and was the leading wicket-taker during the qualifying tournament with 13 scalps at 10.53
The shock factor can't be underestimated. International teams spend hours doing their homework on opposition, but there won't be much footage knocking around of Afghanistan which means they can retain an element of surprise.
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Plays of the Day from second ODI between South Africa and Pakistan, in Port Elizabeth