. “There are a few things which I don’t want to reveal about my team but, believe me, we have done a lot of homework on the other teams,” Afghanistan's coach Rashid Latif said.  —AFP Photo

. “There are a few things which I don’t want to reveal about my team but, believe me, we have done a lot of homework on the other teams,” Afghanistan's coach Rashid Latif said. —AFP Photo

GUANGZHOU: Skipper Mohammad Nabi’s Afghanistan squad does not want to leave Guangzhou without a medal, and is hopeful of achieving something that would have been unthinkable when the decision was made to add cricket to the Asian Games sports program.

Their Pakistani coach, former test wicketkeeper Rashid Latif, expects his players will be holding bouquets in their hands at the victory podium in this Chinese city of flowers at the Guanggong Cricket Stadium next Friday.

“We are here to cause an upset,” Latif told The Associated Press on Sunday. “A medal is on our radar – you never know, it could be even gold.”

Afghanistan’s progress on the international stage has been the feel-good cricket story over the past two years, the war-torn country progressing from the lowest division of qualifying for the 2011 World Cup to only just miss out on reaching the finals. Then it qualified for the Twenty20 World Cup earlier this year, and put in a respectable showing.

At the Asian Games, Afghanistan has been directly seeded into the quarterfinals along with three other formidable teams from the subcontinent – Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

India did not send its men’s or women’s teams, the cricket board citing a heavy international schedule and unavailability of its best players.

“Maybe India didn’t care about this event, but for us it’s a big occasion,” Latif said.

Pakistan has already benefited from the absence of its neighbor and archrival, winning the first ever cricket gold medal ever awarded at the Asian Games when the women crushed Bangladesh – their only really serious competition – by 10 wickets in the final on Saturday. The men’s competition started Sunday.

Latif said the Afghan players will get broader experience from competing at the Asiad, even if it’s just a change from the normal conditions for a cricket tour.

“Cricket never gets this feeling of players staying in a village with so many other athletes from other countries,” Latif said. “You come across so many people and interact with so many athletes that you never get this sort of an experience when you play even a cricket World Cup.”

Cricket is a non-Olympic sport and has only appeared at a major multi-sports event once in recent times, at the 1998 Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur.

The Olympic Council of Asia has already given the green light to cricket for the Incheon Asian Games in 2014, despite the sport being not on the wish-list of host South Korea.

“If we want cricket to be expanded, we need such solid platforms like Asian Games and even Commonwealth Games,” Latif said.

Afghanistan – which has gained full one-day international and Twenty20 international status from the International Cricket Council – has retained 11 players who competed at the Twenty20 World Cup in the West Indies earlier this year.

All-rounder Nabi will be leading Afghanistan for the first time, with Nowroz Mangal another experienced player in the side.

Recently 24 provincial teams competed in a Twenty20 carnival at Kabul and Afghanistan has selected three players from the tournament – batsmen Sami Agha and Shabbir Noori and all-rounder Gulbadin Naib.

“I think we have a strong side, and with this Twenty20 format you never know,” Latif said. “There are a few things which I don’t want to reveal about my team but, believe me, we have done a lot of homework on the other teams.”

Pakistan will be the most likely opponents if Afghanistan reach the semifinals. Sri Lanka and Bangladesh are expected to meet in the other semifinal match.

Pakistan’s top players are involved in a Test series against South Africa in the United Arab Emirates at the moment, and the second-string ‘A’ squad is playing in the Caribbean. That means leading contenders Pakistan had at least 35 of its leading players unavailable for the Asian Games.

Batsman Khalid Latif is the only player with some international experience, having played five limited-overs internationals, but also has a poor record of scoring only 30 runs in five T20 internationals.

The Pakistan squad includes six players – Sharjeel Khan, Azeem Ghumman, Usman Qadir, Sarmad Bhatti, Raza Hasan and Bilawal Bhatti – who were part of the Under-19 World Cup-winning squad.

Sri Lanka will be led be experienced international Jehan Mubarak and also have the the services of veteran fast bowler Nuwan Zoysa, while former test captain Mohammad Ashraful carries Bangladesh’s hopes to win its first ever gold at the Asian Games. —AP