Colombo: There was much bonhomie when four players each from India and Afghanistan exchanged autographed bats during a brief Unicef function (‘Bowl Out Polio’) on Tuesday afternoon.
Present were Harbhajan Singh, Virender Sehwag, Suresh Raina and Rohit Sharma; captain Nawroz Mangal, Karim Sadiq, Asghar Stanikzal and Mohammed Shahzad.
On Wednesday evening, though, expect an all-out war when India and Afghanistan meet in the opening Group A match of the 2012 World Twenty20.
The two have met once before, in the last edition, two years ago, and India didn’t have to sweat too much. However, only eight Afghanistan wickets fell.
While captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni isn’t taking Afghanistan lightly, which is how it should be, counterpart Mangal promised a “different team” on the R. Premadasa Stadium turf.
Mangal’s point was that his team is today more experienced than it was in the World Twenty20’s third edition and that they want to make the most of this opportunity.
The Afghanistan captain, who learnt his cricket in Pakistan, was quick to dismiss a suggestion that his players could be overawed.
If anybody had doubts owing to the strife in Afghanistan, manager Shafiqullah Stanikzal insisted that “every Afghan (including the Taliban)” was behind Mangal and Co.
But it’s not that the team doesn’t keep track of what’s happening back home. Speaking to The Telegraph, Mangal admitted that the bloodshed was “apsos”-causing.
Getting back to cricket, unfancied teams such as Afghanistan are actually more dangerous, for they have absolutely nothing to lose.
T20, in any case, is best suited for emerging teams with big ambitions. The pressure, therefore, is on the heavy guns.
It’s significant that Afghanistan have qualified for the second time in succession.
For India, it was a day of optional practice at the Nondescripts Cricket Club and four bowlers — Harbhajan, Zaheer Khan, Irfan Pathan and Ravichandran Ashwin — chose to rest, despite the concerns over bowling.
Coach Duncan Fletcher should have made it optional for the batsmen only. A few overs at nets may not make a huge difference, but so what?
Among batsmen, Sehwag took a day off, not unusual for him when the practice session is optional.
The nets was a relaxed affair, with Cocktail’s mega hit Tumhi ho Bandhu being played aloud at the end of the session.
Despite the bowlers’ inability to defend 185 for three against Pakistan, changes aren’t expected in the India XI.
Afghanistan will be missing quick Hamid Hassan, who is carrying an injury.
India (likely): Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag, Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Irfan Pathan, Ravichandran Ashwin, Zaheer Khan, Lakshmipathy Balaji
Afghanistan (from): Mohammed Shahzad, Karim Sadiq, Nawroz Mangal, Asghar Stanikzai, Mohammed Nabi, Shafiqullah, Samiullah Shenwari, Gulbodin Naib, Mohammed Nasim Baras, Dawlat Zadran, Shapoor Zadran, Izatullah Dawlatzai, Javed Ahmadi, Najibullah Zadran
Match starts: 7.30pm (IST)