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Afghanistan ready to script 'remarkable stories' as two-year wait of playing in Australia ends

In 2020, they were scheduled to play their first Test in Australia, but the pandemic and political tumult dashed their hopes

Afghanistan will have the ultimate initiation to the foreign conditions in Perth  •  ICC via Getty Images

Afghanistan will have the ultimate initiation to the foreign conditions in Perth  •  ICC via Getty Images

When Afghanistan step onto Optus Stadium to open their T20 World Cup campaign against England, it will end a frustrating two-year wait of playing in Australia marked by Covid-19 postponements and political tumult.
Back in 2020, Afghanistan were excited over the prospect of playing their first ever Test against Australia on a bouncy Perth surface only for those hopes to be dashed by the pandemic.
It was twice rescheduled during long meetings between Cricket Australia and Afghanistan Cricket Board before it fell by the wayside because of the Western Australian government's strict border stance, which only ended in March this year, requiring travellers into the state to quarantine for two weeks in a hotel.
The ACB officials, however, were left slightly miffed when India's lucrative Test and ODI tour of Australia that summer was able to be salvaged. Still, Afghanistan's bitterness wasn't set to linger with the historic Test rescheduled for late 2021 in Hobart.
But just a few months before the match, Afghanistan descended into chaos amid the Taliban's sudden takeover, which meant real concern over the state of women's cricket there. Cricket Australia took a stance and postponed the Test "until a later time when the situation [in Afghanistan] is clearer".
While bilaterals between the countries are uncertain, Afghanistan have retained Full Membership as an ongoing investigation into the women's situation continues through an ICC working group.
Their Test dreams may have to wait, but Afghanistan arrive in Australia for the T20 World Cup with gusto.
"We're not just here to participate but here to win matches. We've got players and a squad that can do that"
Afghanistan head coach Jonathan Trott
"Certainly sensed a build-up, as well as excitement when we first got here and the new experiences for the players," Jonathan Trott, Afghanistan's new head coach, said. "You just listen to the conversations, you're looking at the body language, it is very exciting for me as a coach. But again, it's about controlling those emotions and that excitement and channelling it in the right places and right direction."
Afghanistan will have the ultimate initiation to the foreign conditions on the fast Optus Stadium pitch, where England quick Mark Wood tore through Australia's batting order with rapid pace just two weeks ago.
Openers Hazratullah Zazai and Rahmanullah Gurbaz appear most adept at handling the bounce, but the batting order after that appears to be susceptible against short-pitched bowling.
Gurbaz has been declared fit after he was struck on the left foot by Shaheen Shah Afridi's inswinging yorker during Afghanistan's warm-up match against Pakistan at the Gabba, which was washed out.
"The wicket [in Perth] looks really good," Trott said. "We're looking to our openers to set a good platform along with Ibrahim [Zadran] at three, and we've got some exciting players.
"It was a good experience for us playing against Pakistan in a warm-up. I think the prep has been really good... The guys are ready."
Afghanistan's strength, of course, lies with their beguiling spinners led by BBL standout Rashid Khan, although they could be negated by the Perth pitch.
Against a belligerent England batting order, they will be under the pump and so too the team's fielding, which has been put under the microscope.
"One of the things we've been working on is our fielding, making sure we get an opportunity and are able to put the opposition under pressure," Trott said. "So they're little things, and all the little percentages hopefully add up to us putting together a good run in the competition and winning some games."
Just two months into the role, Trott has been taken by his team's innate passion and obvious skills, which were showcased with wins over Sri Lanka and Bangladesh at the Asia Cup before falling away.
Not content with being dark horses, Trott hopes to develop a harder edge in a bid for a breakthrough deep run at a major tournament.
"I hope we're still seen as a dangerous side but a side that's more consistent," he said. "We're not just here to participate but here to win matches. We've got players and a squad that can do that."
After two long years, Afghanistan finally gets their chance to shine on Australian soil.
"There are some remarkable stories in that dressing room," Trott said. "Hopefully this campaign is going to be another one of them."

Tristan Lavalette is a journalist based in Perth