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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 16 November 2018

Afghanistan enter Asia Cup 'full of hope' as Asghar Stanikzai urges fans to 'be behind us in every game'

Captain is confident of his side's chances when facing defending champions Bangladesh and Sri Lana in the group stage

Afghanistan captain  Asghar Stanikzai bats in the nets at Zayed Cricket Academy in Abu Dhabi. Pawan Singh / The National
Afghanistan captain  Asghar Stanikzai bats in the nets at Zayed Cricket Academy in Abu Dhabi. Pawan Singh / The National

Afghanistan may be the least experienced team in their Asia Cup group, but captain Asghar Stanikzai is confident his side have the ability to progress to the Super Four.

Afghanistan, ranked No 10 in the ICC’s ODI rankings, have been placed alongside eighth-ranked Sri Lanka and defending champions Bangladesh in Group B for the biennial tournament being held in the UAE on September 15-28.

The top two sides from each group – Group A comprises India, Pakistan and Hong Kong – will progress to the Super Four stage, another round robin with the top two then competing in the final.

Stanikzai believes Afghanistan, who arrived in the UAE following a successful tour of Ireland, have every chance of qualifying from their group.

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“We are in a tough group where all three teams have equal chances,” he said after a training session in sweltering conditions in Abu Dhabi on Thursday.

“It is true we are the least experienced of the three teams in our group but we have arrived full of hope. Our first task would be to qualify for the Super Four stage.

“It is hard to say which two teams can qualify from our group. The matches are going to be close and it will be the best team on the day. We hope we can be the best team on the day.”

Afghanistan arrived in Abu Dhabi earlier this week, flying out from Belfast after beating Ireland in both 50-over-a-side and Twenty20. That victorious series came after Afghanistan swept Bangladesh in a T20 series in India in June.

“We played in tough conditions in Ireland and won the series in both formats, which isn’t easy for any Asian side to achieve,” Stanikzai said.

“This is our first ever series success against Ireland in Ireland. We travelled to Ireland two weeks early to prepare and this is what we have done ahead of the Asia Cup.

“We flew straight from Belfast to Abu Dhabi to adapt to different conditions. We arrived three days ago and spent some time in the gym and started training from Wednesday.”

Afghanistan will play three warm up games against local select teams in Abu Dhabi on Saturday, Monday and Wednesday before their first game against Sri Lanka on September 17.

They have named three uncapped players - Sayed Sherzad, Wafadar Momand and Munir Ahmad - in the 17-member squad.

Sherzad and Wafadar, both pace bowlers, have represented the country in Test and T20 cricket, but wicketkeeper Munir is yet to play for the national side.

“All three have played and featured well in the domestic tournaments. We may provide them playing opportunities in the warm up games,” said Stanikzai.

Stanikzai was full of praise for the UAE, insisting it is the best possible host for the Asia Cup with the presence of large population from five of the six nations. The UAE stepped in to replace original hosts India because of ongoing tensions with neighbours Pakistan.

“Every team will be at home in the UAE with a fair share of the population here,” he said. “This is one of the best places to have the Asian Cup and I hope the stadiums will be full to capacity for every game.

“The Afghan fans always come to watch our team play and we want them to come in big numbers to be behind us in every game. They will be a big strength for us.”