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COLOMBO, Sept 20: It will be a David versus Goliath battle at the R. Premadasa Stadium here on Friday when defending champions England launch their World Twenty20 campaign against Afghanistan, who displayed enough fighting abilities in their opening fixture against India.

The minnows would surely be heartbroken following their 23-run defeat to India on Wednesday, but they can take heart from the fact that the former champions were made to toil hard.

The presence of Afghanistan in the island nation means they are one of the 12 best T20 teams in the world.

From fleeing their war-torn homeland, to staying in makeshift refugee camps and earning ODI status – the Afghan cricketers have indeed come a long way.

It’s been a huge leap for the impoverished South Asian nation to have made it to the World T20 for the second consecutive time.

“We have learned a lot. This is a learning phase for us. From facing India and South Africa in the last World T20 to playing international matches against Australia and Pakistan, we have come a long way,” said Afghan captain Nawroz Mangal.

For Mangal, the most important thing is to prove people back home that ‘they belong to the world stage’.

Against India, while chasing 160, Afghan batsmen showed patches of brilliance in their stroke-making but sheer inexperience saw them get all out for 136 in 19.3 overs.

However, Afghanistan’s sloppy fielding that resulted in them dropping as many as four catches, does not augur well for the side. Defying expectations, though, has become something of a habit for them.

On the other hand, England, looking to become the only team in the short history of T20 to have successfully defended the crown, will be on a high after posting wins against Australia and Pakistan, in their two warm-up games.

The English batsmen would however do well to pull up their socks if they are to fancy their chances of making the Super Eights as against Pakistan, they were shot out for a paltry 111 after opting to bat.

They made up for the batting failure by restricting Pakistan to 96-9 on a bowler-friendly pitch at the P Sara Oval on Wednesday.

“We prepared really well, won both games over here and both have been very good tests for us,” Broad told reporters. “I am really delighted. The morale is brilliant. Everyone is excited about getting underway. Our preparations have gone as well as we hoped.”

Broad was asked how the team would cope in the absence of leading batsman Kevin Pietersen.

“We’ve got world-class match winners in the side. Yes we have got guys who have played a lot of international cricket,” Broad said. “We’ve got eight of those who won the World Cup three years ago and we’ve got players who can clear the ropes without a doubt, we have seen that in the last two games.”

The Stuart Broad-led side would want its batsman to come good against the Afghans. A win will ensure a Super Eights berth for the champions even before they take on India in their second and final group league match.

A smooth start will certainly help the side hit a good rhythm, and the team management will have an idea about the performance of their preferred combination.

Teams (from): ENGLAND: Stuart Broad (captain), Jonathan Bairstow, Ravi Bopara, Tim Bresnan, Danny Briggs, Jos Buttler, Jade Dernbach, Steven Finn, Alex Hales, Craig Kieswetter, Michael Lumb, Eoin Morgan, Samit Patel, Graeme Swann, Luke Wright.

AFGHANISTAN: Nawroz Mangal (captain), Dawlat Zadran, Gulbodin Naib, Hamid Hassan, Izzatullah Dawlatzai, Karim Sadiq, Javed Ahmadi, Mohammad Nasim Baras, Mohammad Nabi, Mohammad Shahzad, Asghar Stanikzai, Najibullah Zadran, Samiullah Shinwari, Shafiqullah Shafaq, Shapoor Zadran.

Umpires: Kumar Dharmasena (Sri Lanka) and Simon Taufel (Australia).

TV umpire: Asad Rauf (Pakistan).

Match referee: Ranjan Madugalle (Sri Lanka).—Agencies