Dhoni’s men start as overwhelming favourite to win their opening Group A fixture against Afghanistan

Qualifying for two successive ICC World Twenty20s — in the West Indies’ 2010 and the current one in Sri Lanka — is no mean achievement for Afghanistan, says a report in The Hindu, adding that yet, the tricks, the cricketers have learnt right from the days of playing in refugee camps at Peshawar in Pakistan, will be inadequate while countering India with M.S. Dhoni’s men starting as the overwhelming favourite to win their opening Group A fixture at the R. Premadasa Stadium here on Wednesday night.

“Even in the last edition in the West Indies, India opened its campaign with the match against Afghanistan and the verdict was a facile seven-wicket triumph for the ‘Men in Blue’. There may still be an air of mystery about the rival but Dhoni pointed towards that triumph at St. Lucia as evidence of India’s awareness about cricketers beyond the Khyber Pass. Incidentally seven players of that Afghanistan team are part of the current bunch,” says the report, adding that having played a meagre 23 ODIs and 11 Twenty20s so far, inexperience is one big stumbling block in Afghanistan’s further progress.

“Asghar Stanikzai, who scored a gutsy 66 that went in vain against Australia in an ODI, this August, remains a key batsman and in its warm-up ties, Afghanistan defeated Sri Lanka ‘A’ and lost to the West Indies.”

Meanwhile a report in The Times Of India says that on a Premadasa wicket that offers nothing to the bowlers, no total looks safe for India. It was Pakistan wicket-keeper bat Karman Akmal who tore into them on Monday, and it could be anybody later in the championship.

Skipper MS Dhoni faces a toss-up between seamer L Balaji and the experienced off-spin of Harbhajan Singh, but both look iffy options at the moment. Perhaps, the pace of Ashok Dinda or the leg spin of Piyush Chawla could bring a much-needed freshness to this attack which is short on variety and ideas. Part-timers look even more vulnerable on this batting paradise.

The good news now: Minus Sehwag and Gambhir, the rest of the batting line-up looks in fine fettle, led as it is by a youngster growing in stature with every game. In Virat Kohli, India have perhaps the best No. 3 in the tournament, who could even go on to become the batsman of this World Cup. Rohit Sharma too seems to have found form at last and Suresh Raina and Dhoni are unquestionably the most dangerous T20 batsmen around.

According to a report in Mail Today, the trouble while playing against a team like Afghanistan first up in a global tournament is that there is everything to lose and nothing to gain. At best, India can go par for the course and thrash them comprehensively, or at worst, they can go into the match with a complacent mindset and end up red-faced in embarrassment.

It's one of cricket's truisms that the shorter the game, the better chance a weaker team has, especially if the big team has a bad day. Bangladesh proved that in the 2007 ODI World Cup against India , and MS Dhoni's men will need to be on their guard for a spirited fight by the newest additions to the international cricket family.

The Afghans are the feel-good story of the cricket world, coming as they do from a country torn apart by decades of war, and with most of them having grown up in refugee camps in Pakistan. That is the reason why their qualification for back-to-back World Twenty20s merits a lot of credit.