Combative Afghanistan must defy odds
Afghanistan are looking to their wily spinners and aggressive batsmen to rise to a stiff challenge in the Super 12 stage of the Twenty20 World Cup in Australia.
Mohammad Nabi's team are placed in a tough group alongside hosts and title-holders Australia, former champions England, New Zealand and two qualifiers. Only two of those six will make it into the semi-finals.
If that was not enough, off the field Afghanistan's cricket board is facing a financial crisis because funds from the International Cricket Council are not reaching the country due to sanctions on the Taliban government.
The Afghans were touted as dark-horses at the recent Asia Cup, but in the Super Four stage they lost to eventual champions Sri Lanka and also Pakistan and India.
Skipper Nabi nevertheless took some positives.
"As a unit, as a team, we showed in the Asia Cup that Afghanistan has quality batsmen, bowlers and fielders," Nabi said at the time.
"We are known to defend totals, not chase totals. Our team looks properly balanced."
Afghanistan's biggest strength is their globe-trotting spin quartet of Nabi, Rashid Khan, Mujeeb Ur Rahman and Qais Ahmad.
They have featured in various Twenty20 leagues around the world and have ample experience of Australian pitches while playing in the Big Bash League. They know how to stop runs and take wickets in Australia.
Former New Zealand coach Mike Hesson fears Afghanistan's spinners could cause havoc against the 2021 beaten finalists.
"I'm a little bit wary of New Zealand playing Afghanistan at Melbourne," said Hesson.
"Because the Melbourne pitch does take turn and the Afghanistan spinners are as good as there are throughout the world. That's going to be a tough game for the Black Caps."
Besides the spin attack, Afghanistan now also have quality left-arm pacers in Fazalhaq Farooqi and Fareed Ahmad.
True to their aggressive nature, Afghanistan's batting is full of hard hitters.
The opening duo of Hazratullah Zazai and Rahmanullah Gurbaz can hit over the top at will. The middle order is packed with Najibullah Zadran, all-rounder Nabi, Ibrahim Zadran and newcomer Darwish Rasooli.
Recently joined head coach Jonathan Trott, the former England batsman, has brought a degree of sanity to the cavalier batting style by directing one batter to hold one end while others hit around him.