Colombo: Minnows Afghanistan go into their World Twenty20 clash against reigning champions England on Friday night with their morale boosted by a pep talk from two former greats of the game. India’s Sunil Gavaskar and Aravinda de Silva of Sri Lanka spoke to the squad on Thursday evening after an invitation from Afghanistan’s Pakistani coach Kabir Khan.
“Cricket is a universal game and it feels good to interact with players,” said Gavaskar, the first batsman to score 10,000 Test runs. Gavaskar spoke to the players in Hindi, which they understood, while de Silva’s talk in English was translated into Pashto by Khan.
Afghanistan’s wicketkeeper Mohammad Shahzad said the pep talk was a big boost for his team. “It can’t get better than having Gavaskar and Aravinda speak to us,” said Shahzad. “They boosted our confidence before such an important match. Gavaskar said that our fielding had to improve. There were other suggestions as well.” Both of them were so supportive. Our confidence can only soar. Going forward, we've got a massive boost,” Shahzad said.
The Afghans, who until five years ago were playing in the lower division leagues, won hearts during a fearless display in their opening match against India on Wednesday. The part-timers from the war-ravaged nation, many of whom took up cricket in refugee camps in Pakistan, gave India’s multi-millionaires a scare before going down fighting by 23 runs. Afghanistan's gritty display brought some respect to lower-ranked teams with Ireland being thrashed by Australia in their opening match and Zimbabwe already knocked out of the competition.
England's Twenty20 captain Stuart Broad, who watched Afganistan’s game against India on television, said his team were not taking victory for granted. “Whether you’re playing against Afghanistan, or the best team in the world, your principles don't change," said Broad. "By the looks of it, they don't have any fear. They'll play a few shots. That is something we will have to counteract as a bowling unit, not get fazed by that, not panic too much.”
Broad was reminded of England’s shock defeats to the Netherlands at the 2009 World Twenty20 at Lord's and to Ireland at last year's 50-over World Cup in Bangalore. “The shorter the game the more dangerous these teams are and Afghanistan are not going to hold back with the bat. It will be important we keep our cool." England's second game will be against India in Colombo on Sunday, but victory against Afghanistan will ensure them a place in the Super Eights round.