Saturday, May 1, Gros Islet
Start time 0930 (1330 GMT)
The Big Picture
Afghanistan make their big-screen debut on Saturday's morning show, a sleeper that suddenly became a smash hit by defying every script written for them. A team from a war-torn, dysfunctional country, with half their players born in refugee camps, they narrowly missed qualifying for the 2007 World Cup but are making up for it with this tournament. They have surprised many an Associate team during their stunning rise from Division Five to a world event. Yet they will know that what they are going to face - the pace of Zaheer Khan, the spin of Harbhajan Singh, the might of MS Dhoni and Yuvraj Singh - is nothing like anything they have faced so far.
India will know Afghanistan are not quite Bangladesh, but it was a first-match loss to perceived minnows three years ago that knocked them out of the 50-over World Cup. They have not played a warm-up match this time, know little about their opponents and will want to be as alert as against their other group-mates, South Africa. On the other hand, they would like this slow transition from the IPL to top-level international cricket. A win against Afghanistan, no matter what the margin, will more or less assure them a place in the next round. How the tournament would love an upset, though.
The only dampener is the timing of the match. Almost all India games in this tournament have 9.30am starts - 7pm in India - as opposed to the usual evening timings for matches played in the West Indies. Clearly the TV audience gets a preference to the islands hosting the event, only three years after a disastrously organised World Cup. Who will 'Bring It On' at 9.30am?
Form guide (most recent first)
Afghanistan WLWWW India WLLLL
Watch out for...
Suresh Raina is coming off a successful IPL, where he was Man of the Final, and gave Sachin Tendulkar a fight for the Man-of-the-Tournament award. Will he be able to carry that promise into a big tournament, after having flattered to deceive often?
Mohammad Nabi, an offspinning allrounder, was the leading wicket-taker at the ICC World Twenty20 Qualifiers, with 13 wickets at 10.53 to ease Afghanistan's way. He scored 58 on his ODI debut and 102 in his first first-class game, and although he doesn't have a body of work behind him in Twenty20s, he has a strike-rate of 134.24 for his 98 runs.
Twenty20 is not where you experiment, not even against Afghanistan. They might not have had a warm-up match, but don't expect Indian to experiment too much, for this is an important game.
Going by warm-ups, this seems to be a high-scoring venue, and one for giant-killing: inside three days, Zimbabwe have successfully defended 173 and 143 against Australia and Pakistan respectively. Zimbawe's spinners, and Shahid Afridi seem to have enjoyed themselves. What will interest India a bit more is the forecast for scattered showers. A washed-out match against a minnow team can seriously jeopardise progress in such an event.
Stats and trivia
This will be the first Twenty20 international for Gros Islet.
Afghanistan's 66.67% is a better success-rate than India's 55% in Twenty20 internationals, but Afghanistan have played only six matches, and that too against Associate teams.
"I don't take my opponents lightly. At the end of the day you have to win whichever team you play… Our preparation will remain the same as if you are playing the best opponent in world cricket." MS Dhoni knows there is no room for under-estimation in World Twenty20's snappy format.
"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." Kabir Khan, Afghanistan's coach, knows business is about to pick up.