Afghanistan made history in their first World Cup appearance in Australia in 2015, where they defeated Scotland by a wicket in their final fixture. World Cup 2019, however, is not just about appearances for the Asian side.
Asghar Afghan and his side are not interested in just showing up anymore: they want to make their indelible mark in the tournament.
Working towards this goal, 44 cricketers from Afghanistan are set for an intense training camp in Bengaluru, India. "Our main target is one-day preparation for the World Cup," said Afghan.
"We have focused on World Cup preparation from the moment we qualified for the tournament," he told the ICC. "Earlier we used to go into these tournaments just to play cricket and we were happy that our national anthem played there. Now, the Afghanistan Cricket Team doesn’t want to go there for participation."
This hunger to make a mark was on display during the Asia Cup as well. Afghanistan had a terrific campaign in the competition last year, their fearless approach making them a team to beat. They steamrolled Sri Lanka and Bangladesh before making Pakistan sweat in a thrilling run-chase. Then, in their final game, they held off India to secure a valiant draw.
Earlier we used to go into these tournaments just to play cricket and we were happy that our national anthem played there
"Our Asia Cup campaign was incredible, it showed us that we can do it in the big competitions," smiled Afghan. "First, we just wanted to fight well, now we want to win."
"We fell a tad short in terms of experience at the Asia Cup, but we have recovered on that front now," added Javed Ahmadi, their batsman. "We played one-sided matches with different countries five years ago, and even today, it seems like we can continue doing that.
"[But] we will leave no stone unturned in our preparation for the World Cup, which we began two months ago."
Their ambitions are lofty, but the dream isn't clouding their immediate tasks. After the camp, they have a full series against Ireland in Dehradun, their adopted home. The two newest full members of the ICC will lock horns in three T20s, five ODIs and one Test.
"Every match we play will be our target – nothing before it, nothing after it," insisted the captain. "If we think about winning the World Cup now, we might not give our full attention to the games in between."
Few countries have had a cricketing rise comparable to Afghanistan’s.— ICC T20 World Cup (@T20WorldCup) January 29, 2019
The 2020 #T20WorldCup will mark a decade since Afghanistan's first appearance in the competition.
What does it hold in store?
➡️ https://t.co/PbacCBghxv pic.twitter.com/QZmDfJwixn
There is also the ICC T20 World Cup 2020 in Australia the following year, the fixtures for which were announced this week. Afghanistan have pipped Bangladesh and Sri Lanka to qualify directly for the Super 12 stage. It's a format that they're comfortable with, but they don't want to get ahead of themselves
"There isn’t much difference in the two white-ball formats, both are the same. We are focused on the one-day preparation right now, we will focus on T20 in the final week [of the camp]," said Afghan.
The peerless Mohammad Nabi, Rashid Khan and Mujeeb Ur Rahman form the crux of Afghanistan's daunting spin-bowling attack. The trio claimed 109 ODI scalps between them in 2018, with Khan and Rahman among the top five wicket-takers for the year. Khan, in fact, was at the apex of the list, with 48 wickets in just 20 games.
Will the conditions in England make them less effective?
"English conditions will be difficult for us because we haven’t played there much," admitted Afghan. "However, our boys work hard and learn quickly."
Ahmadi, meanwhile, was unperturbed. "Everywhere we have gone, our spin attack has done it. Our spinners are world-class, they have succeeded in flat and seaming conditions as well. Rashid Khan, Mohammad Nabi and Mujeeb are among the best spinners in the world," he insisted.