x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Dhoni wary of upstarts from Afghanistan

The India captain is treating the qualifiers Afghanistan with the same respect as any top side when they open their World Twenty20 campaign today.

With memories of their last visit to the Caribbean still all too vivid, MS Dhoni, the India captain, is treating the qualifiers Afghanistan with the same respect as any top side when they open their World Twenty20 campaign today. India flopped spectacularly at the 50-over World Cup in 2007 in the West Indies, crashing out in the group stages with defeats by Sri Lanka and Bangladesh and managing one solitary win - over the over minnows from the tiny island of Bermuda.

Since then India have regrouped under the leadership of Dhoni and have one of the two World Twenty20 titles under their belt, winning the inaugural 2007 tournament in South Africa. They start the Caribbean tournament as one of the favourites to add a second crown, while Afghanistan are making their first appearance on the global stage after coming through the qualifiers held in the UAE earlier in the year.

Dhoni, however, has warned against taking the newcomers lightly, knowing any slip-up in today's Group C match could put India out of contention for a place in the Super Eights. "If you ask me, I would not consider our opening match against Afghanistan as a practice game," he said at the pre-match press conference in St Lucia. "I don't take my opponents lightly. At the end of the day you have to win whichever team you play.

"I don't know much about them. It is good in a way because if we know too much about a side then you are thinking too much about them. However, our preparation will remain the same as if you are playing the best opponent in world cricket." Afghanistan, who have made a stunning rise from the fifth division of international cricket's rankings, are planning to put the surprise element to use against India and South Africa in the group stages of the tournament, the first time they will be playing against the game's top guns.

"On the technical side, it is good that they don't know us because when they know about you they will plan," said Kabir Khan, the coach of the Afghanistan side. "Luckily, we know everything about them. We have seen all their [players'] IPL games. We will give them a surprise which will make them remember us after the game." In the other action today, the defending champions, Pakistan, kick-off their campaign against Bangladesh in Group A.

Pakistan have had a torrid time since winning the title in England nine months ago. Half a dozen of their best players were either suspended or fined following their woeful tour of Australia in the winter, when they failed to win a game, but the biggest blow came when Umar Gul - the most successful fast bowler in the shortest form of the game - was ruled out for their title defence with a shoulder injury.

"Umar Gul, over the last two years, has been playing very well in Twenty20," Shahid Afridi, the Pakistan captain, said in an International Cricket Council podcast. "He is an expert of reverse swing. He could have been lethal on the slow pitches in the West Indies, but all the other available players are also equally good and eager to perform in the mega event. "Playing in this cricket, anything can happen. It's about what happens on the day. I want to see the same body language whether we are playing Bangladesh or Australia."

* Compiled by Ahmed Rizvi India v Afghanistan, 5.30pm and Pakistan v Bangladesh, 9.30pm, both on CricOne and ESPN Star Sports