Afghanistan go into the T20 World Cup 2022 in Australia in good heart after competing well at last year's tournament in the UAE.
The Afghans won two of their five matches, including a 130-run hammering of Scotland, and they also claimed a couple of impressive scalps at this year's Asia Cup where they beat Bangladesh and champions Sri Lanka.
Ace leg-spinner Rashid Khan is one of the most feared bowlers on the T20 franchise-league circuit and Afghanistan, whose top-eight ICC ranking has earned them an automatic place in the Super 12 phase, should not be taken lightly by their rivals.
|What:||T20 World Cup 2022|
|When:||16th October - 13th November 2022|
|How to watch:||Sky Sports|
|Odds:||Australia 11/4, India 10/3, England 7/2, Pakistan 15/2, South Africa 8/1, New Zealand 8/1|
The Afghans failed to make it past the first group stage of the 2010, 2012 and 2014 T20 World Cups and their nine-run defeat to Nepal in 2014 was a particularly disappointing result.
In 2016, however, they beat qualifying rivals Zimbabwe, Scotland and Hong Kong to reach the Super 10 stage, running England close in a 15-run defeat in Delhi before beating the West Indies, who went on to lift the trophy, by six runs in Nagpur.
They bypassed the first group stage in 2021 and finished fourth in Group 2, just two points behind T20 powerhouses India, after comprehensive victories over Scotland and Namibia.
Afghanistan racked up 190-4 against the Scots in their opening game and then bowled out their opponents for just 60 to seal the biggest winning margin of the tournament.
Afghanistan have been drawn in Group 1 alongside three of the four semi-finalists from the 2021 T20 World Cup: Australia, tournament hosts and defending champions, New Zealand, who lost to the Aussies in last year's final, and England, who are 7/2 to win the 2022 title.
The Afghans have a tough start to their campaign, facing England at the Perth Stadium on 22nd October and New Zealand in Melbourne on 26th October.
Their following two games are against qualifiers before they sign off against Australia in Adelaide, where key man Rashid Khan has enjoyed great success for Adelaide Strikers in the Big Bash.
Former England batter Jonathan Trott was appointed head coach of Afghanistan in July, having previously worked as a batting consultant with England and Scotland.
Trott is relatively inexperienced as a coach at international level but he was renowned for his determination and focus as a player, averaging more than 50 for England in ODI cricket and playing a crucial role in their 2010/11 Ashes series victory in Australia.
|Big-hitting batter:||Najibullah Zadran|
|Match winner:||Rashid Khan|
|Breakout star:||Ibrahim Zadran|
Mohammad Nabi has been a stalwart of Afghan cricket since making his international debut against Scotland in 2009 and the 37-year-old is still the world's top T20 all-rounder according to the ICC rankings.
The well-travelled veteran has played in the Indian Premier League, Caribbean Premier League, Pakistan Super League, T20 Blast, The Hundred and the Big Bash in Australia, where he has spent five seasons with Melbourne Renegades.
He has a big role to play for his nation as skipper, canny off-spinner and hard-hitting middle-order batter.
Nabi, Mujeeb Ur Rahman and Rashid Khan form a top-class spin attack for Afghanistan and Rashid is undoubtedly the country's brightest cricketing star.
The leg-spinner has taken 34 wickets in just five Test matches but Twenty20 remains his strongest format. He claimed 5-3 in two overs against Ireland in a 2017 T20 international, picked up 4-9 against Scotland at last year's World Cup and is a proven threat on Australian pitches, taking 92 wickets in 61 Big Bash appearances for the Strikers – the most by any overseas player in the tournament's history.
Ibrahim Zadran, a 20-year-old batsman, cemented his place in the World Cup squad thanks to a solid run of scores in the Asia Cup in August and September.
Batting at number three, he made 42 not out against Bangladesh, 40 against Sri Lanka, 35 against Pakistan and 64 not out, in a total of just 111-8, against India.
The youngster showed impressive temperament in that innings against India, in which Afghanistan collapsed to 21-6, and he looks capable of playing the anchor role while his more powerful teammates attack the bowling.
Afghanistan flew out of the traps at last year's World Cup, crushing Scotland in their opening game, and they will need a similar level of performance to compete with England and New Zealand in their first two matches in Australia.
In spin-friendly conditions, the Afghans pose a serious threat with Nabi, Mujeeb and Rashid in the side but there are concerns over the quality of their pace bowling, especially in the death overs.
Afghanistan's spinners have excelled in the Big Bash but their batters have far less experience in Australia and they may struggle to get enough runs on the board to upset big-hitting Group 1 opponents Australia, England and New Zealand.
Qualifying for the semi-finals is probably beyond Nabi's men but they have done brilliantly to close the gap on the top teams in recent years and are unlikely to be outclassed at this tournament.