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Afghanistan ready for world's best

AFP
May 05, 2010 at 01:00pm IST

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Gros Islet, Saint Lucia: Afghanistan coach Kabir Khan invited cricket's leading nations to help his side build on their remarkable rise following their World Twenty20 debut against India.

The minnows may have lost by seven wickets but they were far from disgraced in the latest stage of their extraordinary ascent.

Afghanistan were only recognised by the International Cricket Council in 2001 and fewer than two years ago they were playing in Division Five of the World Cricket League, alongside the likes of Germany, Vanuatu and Norway.

T20 WC: Afghanistan ready for world's best

The minnows may have lost by seven wickets in their opening game against India but they were far from disgraced.

When they were 29 for three in the sixth over, the kind of embarrassing 'blow-out' that leads critics of the ICC to question why 'minnow' sides are included in major international tournaments loomed large.

But such humiliation was avoided thanks to an impressive fifty from Afghanistan opener Noor Ali, whose innings featured several elegant boundaries.

Ali, admirably rising to the occasion rather than buckling, was well supported in a fourth-wicket stand of 68 by Ashgar Stanikzai.

The hard-hitting batsman's 30 included three sixes whacked over midwicket.

That several Afganistan batsmen were undone by short-pitched ball delivered at a pace few of them would have experienced before was no surprise.

However, Khan - a former Pakistan seamer himself - said there was only one way players from war-torn Afghanistan could improve.

"So far they haven't played fast bowlers of that pace, which normally they would have trouble with.

"I hope after the World Cup we play against good sides so they get used to it," added Khan ahead of a group match with South Africa, whose attack is set to be led by fast bowler Dale Steyn.

Being in close proximity to India and Pakistan, it is understandable how players from the Asian giants are favourites in the Afghanistan side.

And on Saturday wicketkeeper Mohammad Shahzad found himself up against his cricket hero in India captain and gloveman Mahendra Singh Dhoni.

"Our boys follow India and Pakistan, our wicketkeeper is known as MS and he is a great fan of Dhoni. I think it would have been the best day of his life to play against him. He would have loved to have impressed him too."

Afghanistan captain Nowroz Mangal, speaking through a translator, tried to sum up what it meant to him and his team to hear the Afghan national anthem during the pre-match formalities.

"Yesterday (Friday) when we were here practising and we heard our national anthem, we were very happy. When the game started this morning it was a huge honour for us.

"India is one of the best teams in the world. We were very happy to play our first match against them. Early in the morning the wicket was difficult for us but it was a good experience for our guys."

And Dhoni added: "The way they were enjoying each other's success is a sign of a good team.

"The left-arm fast bowler (Shahpoor) Zadran has some potential and bowls at a decent pace."

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