x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

World Twenty20: Group A preview - Afghan upset is on the cards

Paul Radley explains why India and England – champions past and present – could be in for a shock against their Group A opponents.

The Afghanistan cricket team, in action against Australia in Sharjah in arecent ODI, are among the best Twenty20 sides in the world. Ravindranath K / The National
The Afghanistan cricket team, in action against Australia in Sharjah in arecent ODI, are among the best Twenty20 sides in the world. Ravindranath K / The National

Dynamic of the group

"This is a very volatile form of the game," Dav Whatmore, the new coach of Pakistan, said this week.

Until Afghanistan came along, Pakistan were unquestionably the most volatile side in the international game. Coincidentally, they have been arguably the best side in T20 internationals to date, too.

If combustibility helps, Afghanistan should be all right. Their two group rivals may be formidable, with England, the defending champions, and India, the world champions in the 50 over format.

However, the bigger they are the more the Afghans delight in trying to bring about their fall. A shock progression is not beyond them.

Players to watch

Eoin Morgan (England)

Craig Kieswetter was man of the match in the final when England won this tournament two years ago, and Kevin Pietersen was the player of the series.

However, England's most dynamic and reliable player was always Eoin Morgan. He remains so, despite two years of fluctuating fortunes since.

Sri Lanka has had to wait for him: the Dublin-born batsman was overlooked for England's Test team to tour there earlier this year, after a tough time against Pakistan in the UAE.

He relocated his batting mojo in a limited-overs series against Australia this summer, and he remains England's key man.

Ravichandran Ashwin (India)

Early forecasts suggested T20 cricket was going to be the death of spin bowling, but it has not worked out that way.

Quite the opposite, in fact. This week, midway through the series between Pakistan and Australia, nine of the 10 top-ranked bowlers in the world were spinners.

History suggests India's cricketing success is usually founded upon spin bowling.

However, you have to look a long way down the rankings to find the player who could be their most potent threat in Sri Lanka.

Ravichandran Ashwin knows how to bowl teams to T20 success, and his country will be hoping he can do the same in this tournament.

Mohammed Shahzad (Afghanistan)

Afghanistan have plenty of players of substance with Hamid Hassan and Mohammed Nabi, in particular, now long on experience as well as talent.

If there is one player who typifies Afghan fearlessness, though, it is their rotund wicketkeeper, Mohammed Shahzad. Idolised in his homeland for his brutal batting, he made twin half-centuries for a combined ICC XI against England's Test attack earlier this year.

Then he caught the eye again by reverse-sweeping Saeed Ajmal for six in a one-day international against Pakistan in Sharjah. He likes to be noticed.

Match to watch

Afghanistan v India, September 19, Colombo

This will be a day for underdogs to prove their worth on the big stage in Colombo.

In the first match, Australia will try to prove to Ireland they can cut it at this level, having recently edged above them again in the T20 rankings.

Then Afghanistan meet India. The last time they played, also at the pool stage in the Caribbean two years ago, the non-Test side were no match for the best resourced team in the game.

The Afghans are two years older and, with some big-match experience, wiser now.

Venue

R Premadasa (Colombo)

Sri Lanka's largest stadium was built on swampland previously used by monks ferrying across to the Khettaram temple, which lies adjacent to the where the ground now stands.

Ahead of last year's 50-overs World Cup, the residents and shop owners in the vicinity of the Premadasa were given a list of missives by the local council. These included requests to "abstain from hanging out clothes for drying in public view and putting garbage on the roadsides" or "engaging in street games such as hopscotch and cricket matches". It remains Sri Lanka's venue of choice for limited-overs cricket.

Talking points

Where is Pietersen?

Twenty20 cricket might have been invented for Kevin Pietersen. You can go in and have a dash from ball one with the bat. Fielding does not last long enough to be boring. And the whole game is done and dusted in a little over three hours, meaning less time spent with those annoying teammates. Pietersen was the player of tournament when England won a global title for the first time, namely this competition in the West Indies two years ago. The ugly separation he has had with England's national team has left a sizeable hole in their XI in all formats, but it is likely to be most acutely felt in his one.

How much can we expect from Yuvraj Singh?

In order to keep his mind away from bad thoughts during his chemotherapy treatment, Yuvraj occupied himself by playing pranks on friends and watching Bend It Like Beckham.

Just being able to hit a cricket ball again so soon after what he has been through is triumph enough. More than that, what can anyone expect of him? He was one of the pillars of India's World Cup win on home soil last year, and T20 suits his batting style. The Blue Billion, India's massive supporters' club, are not the only ones who will hope he can still Six Hit Like Yuvi.

Can an Afghan crack the IPL?

In his first stint with their national team, Kabir Khan - the former UAE coach who is in charge of Afghanistan again - said a number of Afghan players are worthy of Indian Premier League (IPL) contracts. Some have landed deals in the Bangladesh Premier League.

The Afghan Cheetas, meanwhile, play in Pakistan's domestic Twenty20.

But they will have really hit the big time when one of them lands a place in the 20-over game's great behemoth, the IPL.

Shahzad, Mohammed Nabi, Hamid Hassan and Co will not have a better chance to advertise their wares than when they face India in Sri Lanka.

pradley@thenational.ae

twitter Follow us @SprtNationalUAE