GROS ISLET, St Lucia — India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni has warned his collection of highly-regarded teammates not to underestimate Afghanistan's ability to sensationally sabotage their World Twenty20 hopes.
India are amongst the favourites to add the 2010 title to their 2007 crown, but first they must find a way past Afghanistan, the team which learnt their trade in refugee camps and have, against all the odds, made it through to a debut world championship appearance.
"If you ask me, I would not consider our opening match against Afghanistan as a practice game," said Dhoni ahead of Saturday's clash.
"I don't know much about them. It is good in a way because if we know too much about a side then you are thinking too much about them. However, our preparation will remain the same as if you are playing the best opponent in world cricket."
India come into the tournament with their sport embroiled in a damaging financial IPL scandal.
They are also returning to the Caribbean where, having lost to Bangladesh, they were eliminated in the first round of the 50-over World Cup in 2007.
By contrast, Afghanistan, whose players make around 300 dollars a month compared to Dhoni's multi-million-dollar A-list lifestyle, have become everyone's sentimental favourites.
In two years they have risen from Division Five of the World Cricket League to the elite 12-nation World Twenty20.
In between, they just missed out on qualifying for the 2011 World Cup but did earn the consolation of clinching full one-day international status.
They pulled off an impressive five-wicket win over Ireland in a World Twenty20 warm-up on Wednesday with debutant seamer Dawlat Ahmadzai grabbing 4-15.
"We met our president, Hamid Karzai, a month ago and he just asked us to win the World Cup," Afghanistan coach Kabir Khan told www.cricinfo.com.
"Even when it's a friendly game the scores are live on the internet and the TV shows them at the bottom.
"So now we've beaten Ireland in a friendly game they will be celebrating, that's how big it has gone. It's a lot of pressure on us. They don't want us to lose. The demands are very high, they expect a lot from us and it can go both ways, but so far the boys have given them a lot of trophies."
Kabir, a former Pakistan international, knows that his team face a huge task to qualify for the second round here with South Africa also drawn in their group.
He also appreciates that expectations could become unrealistic.
"We often get asked when we are going to beat Australia or Pakistan, so those are the questions we have to answer sometimes and we just have to calm them a little," he said.
"The good thing about the team is that at every level they have lifted their game. Everything about them has improved at each stage.
"I know there will be pressure; there will the pressure of television, the pressure of the crowd but they are quick learners and I hope they will adjust to it."
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