ICC World Twenty20 2010 April 29, 2010

Afghans braced for weight of expectation


Afghanistan have been breaking new ground for the last two years. Their rapid rise up the world rankings, and ultimately a place at the World Twenty20, has captured the hearts and minds of the cricket world. Now comes another new challenge for them. On Saturday, in St Lucia, they will play India in front of a sell-out crowd with pictures being beamed back to local television in Kabul and beyond.

It's a lot to take in, but Afghanistan show no signs of a backward step after their five-wicket victory against Ireland on their first full day in the Caribbean. Even for what was, ultimately, nothing more than a practice game there will be huge celebrations back home at the result. There always are when Afghanistan win, which they've done a lot lately, but it leads to some huge expectations for the 15 players on duty in West Indies.

"We met our president, Hamid Kharzai, a month ago and he just asked us to win the World Cup," the coach Kabir Khan said with a laugh and a smile, sitting alongside his captain Nowroz Mangal. "Even when it's a friendly game the scores are live on the internet and the TV shows them at the bottom.

"So now we've beaten Ireland in a friendly game they will be celebrating, that's how big it has gone. It's a lot of pressure on us. They don't want us to lose. The demands are very high, they expect a lot from us and it can go both ways, but so far the boys have given them a lot of trophies."

That run of success - starting with the World Cricket League Division Five and cumulating in February's victory in the World Twenty20 qualifiers - has brought much joy to a troubled nation, but at the same time the fans, many of whom are new to cricket, expect the team to win every time they walk onto the field.

"They don't know a lot about cricket, they just see the team is winning so think it should be good enough," Khan explained. "If they can win one tournament why not the World Cup? It's all the same for them. We often get asked when we are going to beat Australia or Pakistan, so those are the questions we have to answer sometimes and we just have to calm them a little."

Most teams talk about the pressure of expectation, and in Afghanistan's case it's plain to see. However, they are likely to receive an extra boost from the crowds, because if their warm-up against Ireland was any marker, they will be everyone's second-favourite team - much like West Indies used to be.

"The good thing about the team is that at every level they have lifted their game. Everything about them has improved at each stage," Khan added. "I know there will be pressure; there will the pressure of television, the pressure of the crowd but they are quick learners and I hope they will adjust to it."

Mangal has the daunting task of dealing with the hopes of a country who are now expecting nothing less than victory every time. However, he can only see the positive in Afghanistan's situation and is happy to dream about more memorable days.

"It's a great honour for us to be playing at this level and it's a great achievement for us to be here at a World Cup," he said. "The team we qualified with, Ireland, we have come here and beaten so it shows our standards are there and obviously we hope something very special will happen over the next week."

Surely, though, they don't have realistic hopes of causing an upset when the tournament proper starts? India and South Africa are at the top of the pile in world cricket, packed with powerful batting, bowling of the pace Afghanistan have never seen and, in India's case, no shortage of spin quality.

"Obviously we have got two very good teams in our group, we know that, but we have seen in Twenty20 anything can happen," Khan said. "It can be anyone's game on the day if you play well and if we play well there is a chance of an upset. The boys are very well prepared and the best thing for them, and for me, is that we aren't just here to participate - we are going to play hard cricket, we are going to play tough cricket.

"We are positive, but win or lose, for me as a coach, achieving this status in the World Cup is a much bigger thing for me. But if they can give me a win I'll be delighted."

Delighted probably wouldn't be the right word to sum up the reaction in Afghanistan if India and South Africa are humbled in the coming days.

Andrew McGlashan is assistant editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on May 1, 2010, 17:26 GMT

    Dear Friends,

    I would like to declare that this very wonderful that for the first time the Afghan team be able to attend the WC match. How ever, 30 years of war in the coutry and two years experinces, but the Afghan team can match very well and hope to win the WC. so we all appreciate the young team and let them what they are doing with south africa and other senior teams.


    Qais Agah from Afghanistan

  • Dummy4 on May 1, 2010, 2:21 GMT

    @ iron murph - if Australia, South Africa, Sirlanka and New Zealand are favorites how come they havn't won this world cup before.

    My advice to Afghanistan team will be to aim for three things

    1. Score over 100 batting first or second 2. Don't loose with over 100 runs batting second 3. Don't loose in ten overs batting first.

    if they can avoid these three situations I will think they are winners.

    They can always fix a match I suppose. If only Hanse Conje was still the captain ;) Joking apart South Africa is known to loose in finals but they are always good in first and second rounds. So if Afghanistan can do the same three things against them in their match that will be quite an achievement.

    I guess Australia is called a favorite as they just lost to Zimbabwe !! and the margin of loss was not very big so they were really close to winning the match, hence the title of favorites.

    All the best to Afghanistan. Insha Allah they will defeat Australia in the final !!

  • Samuel on April 30, 2010, 22:17 GMT

    I think India are far from tornament favorites, the certainly have a shot at making the semis and perhaps even the final. But stronger teams including South Africa, Australia, Sri Lanka and New Zealand are in their way.

    Congrads to Afgans though, its great to see a decent fight to make the last few slots at the world cup, hopefully an upset is in order for you

  • ilham on April 30, 2010, 20:59 GMT

    Afghanisan will lock the lips of india by saying that Chaak dee india after meeting Afghanistan in WC on Saturday inshallah and will make them to say Afghans are the best so we SHOULD be B Positive in all situation as we have already suffered alot in our Afghanistan in the last three decades and people around the world are really focused for this huge tournament and specially Afghans first appearnce in the Worldcup as this will be the first ever for the Afghanistan Sports in any format of the Game in international level to participate so We all pray to Allah(SWT) to Give Afghan the Strength, Potential, Energy and ability to win their first appreance game in WC 2010 and Shower his blessing to them for unity and consistant for every games and challenges ahead ...amin

  • vijay on April 30, 2010, 7:54 GMT

    Good that the young Afghanis are getting passionate about the sport which is so popular in South Asia. This will keep them move in the right direction and help them spread the spirit of the game and also display to the world what they are and can be- very kind, humane,hard working and tough'. It is not going to be easy beating them since they are loaded with high levels of energy and winning spirit...Good luck from Vijay Naidu Dubai

  • usman on April 30, 2010, 5:25 GMT

    hey hey hey guys...if afghanistan loses no matter they already got to wc20 this is their biggest victory and if they make an upset,by beating big boys that is gonna a wonderful inshallah and we pray to Allah and we hope so that with blessing and Help of ALlah inshallah our team will win Allah Ho Akbar.

  • Ignatius on April 30, 2010, 2:19 GMT

    First of all congratulations fr u guys fr making it tis far.. wishin u very best fr ur sucess in te tournament..

  • Ravi on April 30, 2010, 1:41 GMT

    Afghanistan have had a meteoric rise in world cricket. I have enjoyed their success.However, till now, they have not met the top class teams in world cricket. Their real test starts in this T20 World Cup. If they are able to humble India or South Africa in this tournament, I would applaud them. The Indians/ South Africans have to play real bad cricket to loose OR the Afghanistanis have to play superlative cricket. Having said that, one has got to be realistic. Dhoni is by far a crafty and intelligent cricketer.He is sure to take all measures to see that there are no upsets at least while playing Afghanistan. If Afghanistan win in spite of all this, they would truly deserve their victory. May we all enjoy a good game of cricket!!

  • Tuan on April 30, 2010, 1:11 GMT

    India & South Africa are very good teams & they are balanced teams too.... But it can't assure that, India or South Africa is winning this game.... Its probable that India & South Africa would beat Afghanistan, but if Afghanistan won against India or South Africa, that would be the upset of this year's tournament....

  • Ibrahim on April 29, 2010, 21:40 GMT

    To the overconfident Indian fans: It's simple. India have a weak bowling attack and Afghanistan have a strong one. India have an excellent batting lineup and Afghanistan's is adequate. I very much doubt India are favourites for the competition, MAYBE for the match. South Africa is a far better side and I dunno why you think you're favourites. Dhoni is a good focused leader but you people are too overconfident

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