Fairytale of the unlikely lads from a war-torn land as England prepare for Afghanistan
21:30 GMT, 19 September 2012
Mohammad Nabi was born a refugee in the Afghani province of Logar, where a foreign journalist once remarked that 'the most common sight except for ruins are graves'.
When his family relocated to another refugee camp, in the Pakistani city of Peshawar, Nabi began playing tennis-ball cricket. It was the start of an infatuation.
On Wednesday, he cracked 31 in 17 balls against India in the World Twenty20 in Colombo.
Rags to riches: Karim Sadiq gets home as Afghanistan show their improvement in defeat by India
On Friday, he lines up against England. There are rags-to-riches stories. And then there is the Afghanistan cricket team.
As recently as four years ago, they were taking part in the ICC's lowly World Cricket League Division 5 in Jersey, with the likes of Japan and Mozambique.
Their presence in Sri Lanka, where – by definition – they are one of the 12 best Twenty20 teams, is the equivalent of a team from the Blue Square Premier North doing battle for a Champions League spot.
It is not the first time they have qualified for the World Twenty20. In 2010, they were thrashed by India – who beat them comfortably enough by 23 runs – and South Africa.
Take bat: Nabi cracked 31 in 17 balls against India on Wednesday
But they arrived in the Caribbean two years ago after wins over Ireland and Scotland and have beaten Canada and the Netherlands, who themselves embarrassed England at Lord's in 2009.
'Everyone likes cricket in Afghanistan,' said Nabi. 'There are a lot of fans now. We will try hard in this tournament to do something for our nation.'
Like Nabi, the big break for fast bowler Hamid Hassan came during a game against a touring MCC side, led by former England captain Mike Gatting, at Mumbai in 2006. While Nabi scored a century, Hassan had Gatting caught behind for a duck – in spikeless boots.
The following year, the bandana-wearing Hassan, whose family fled Jalalabad when he was six after the Mujahideen ousted the invading Soviets, went on to become the first Afghani to play at Lord's, representing MCC against a Europe XI.
Leader: Mangal (left) has captained Afghanistan since 2007
When he helped his country qualify for the 2010 World Twenty20, his family – previously anti-cricket – sacrificed a lamb. Playing for MCC against Nottinghamshire in a Twenty20 match in Dubai in 2008, he took a hat-trick.
Nawroz Mangal, 27, has captained Afghanistan since 2007. When he began his career, having learned his cricket – like many of his team-mates – in a Pakistani refugee camp, the sport was largely a mystery in a land more readily associated in foreign minds with the Taliban, futile wars and the illegal opium trade.
Now, Mangal claims more than 500,000 of the nation's 30million inhabitants are playing cricket.
'After participating in this World Cup, if we do better, I expect 30 to 40 per cent of the population to start playing it,' he said.
If that may be optimistic, Mangal wants cricket to bring at least some measure of hope to a war-ravaged nation.
'This would be a positive sign to bring the youth into sports instead of them having wrong influences,' he said.
'I would say this could be a positive step towards bringing peace to the country as well.'
Stuart Broad's team need to beware. For these remarkable Afghanis, cricket is rather more than a sport. And after their defeat by India, they will be playing for their lives.