Afghans step onto the big stage

Afghanistan

Pakistan captain Misbah-ul-Haq wants fast-improving teams like Afghanistan to play more international matches against Test-playing nations in order to gauge their progress in a better fashion.

Pakistan captain Misbah-ul-Haq wants fast-improving teams like Afghanistan to play more international matches against Test-playing nations in order to gauge their progress in a better fashion.

Awarded ODI status in 2009, Afghanistan will play their first ODI against a Test-playing country on Friday, when they take on Pakistan.

The match will serve as a warm-up for Pakistan ahead of their four ODIs against England, starting next week.

Misbah met some of the of the Afghan players as captain of the Faisalabad Wolves when the Pakistan Cricket Board invited Afghanistan to compete in their domestic Twenty20 tournament.

"Once you play against Test teams, only then you can know what type of improvement is required," said Misbah. "It's very important that such matches are organized so that these teams can realize where they stand.

"They are fighters, they have good fielders and you can't take them easy."

Former Pakistan captains Shahid Afridi and Shoaib Malik are back for the shorter format of the game after Misbah led Pakistan to a clean sweep against England in the Test series.

Malik was a surprise inclusion in the squad, with the all-rounder taking only five wickets and scoring 35 runs in his last eight ODIs. Misbah requested the incluision of Malik after he was left out from the original squad last week.

"I think there was some misunderstanding," added Misbah. "Maybe he didn't bat well last year, but his bowling played a vital role against Sri Lanka here in Sharjah.

"Since the opposition is struggling against spinners and sometimes our batting also struggles, I thought Malik's inclusion will benefit the team."

Misbah also reminded his players not to rest on the laurels of the recent past and to prepare hard for the upcoming challenges against Afghanistan and England.

"I always say that whatever performance you have given in the past is history and one should look ahead," he insisted. "It's true we won the test series and we did celebrate it, but for us tomorrow's match is important to mold us back in this format."

Afghanistan suffered a blow on the eve of the match after fast bowler Hamid Hasan was ruled out after failing to recover from a knee injury.

But captain Nawroz Mangal is still confident his team will put up a strong fight against the likes of Pakistan spinners Saeed Ajmal and Abdur Rehman despite the absence of Hasan.

"It's a very good challenge for us," said Mangal, who has played all of Afghanistan's 18 ODIs against associate and affiliate teams. "All the players are excited and waiting anxiously to play against the best side in the world.

"We are not targettting any specific individuals, we are here to play the game not the names. We have done our homework and we will try our best to execute our plans accordingly and achieve the desired results."

Afghanistan warmed up by playing a limited-overs series against Pakistan's north western province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in Kabul last month, winning three-one.

Interim Afghanistan coach Iqbal Sikander, who was a part of Pakistan's 1992 World Cup-winning squad, rated Afghanistan among the top three affiliate teams in the world.

"They lacked experience before but they have played so much cricket that they are now ready for this level of cricket, and this team on their day can give any team a tough time," said Sikander.

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