MIRPUR, Bangladesh (AP) — Five things to know about the preliminary league stage of the World Twenty20 tournament, which starts Sunday in Bangladesh:
HOME TOWN CHALLENGE — Bangladesh is under pressure to perform on home soil. The test-ranked country has been grouped with an up-and-coming team from Afghanistan, Nepal and Hong Kong in Group A. Bangladesh recently lost a limited-overs international to Afghanistan, so there will be some nervous moments when those teams meet again in the shorter format. Only one team advances from each preliminary pool to the Super 10 stage. The Mushfiqur Rahim-led Bangladesh team has been in indifferent form, having lost 2-0 in a recent T20 series against Sri Lanka, as well as seven consecutive defeats in ODIs — including the loss to Afghanistan at the Asia Cup. Bangladesh's record in the World T20 hasn't been impressive — its only win in the competition was against the West Indies in the inaugural edition in South Africa seven years ago.
ZIMBABWE'S CAMPAIGN — Zimbabwe is in Group B of the preliminary league along with Ireland, the United Arab Emirates and Netherlands, and will have to hit the ground running because it hasn't played international cricket since hosting Pakistan in September. There was also a players' strike that disrupted its domestic competition. Zimbabwe pulled off an upset in the inaugural 2007 tournament when it beat a star-studded Australia, but has failed to win a match in the subsequent three editions of the competition.
PLUCK OF THE IRISH: Ireland, which has pulled off some dramatic surprise results at international cricket events in the past, will be buoyed by a recent T20 victory over defending champion West Indies at Kingston, Jamaica. Ireland reached the Super 8 stage of the World T20 in 2009 when it beat Bangladesh by six wickets. In ODIs, the Irish stunned Pakistan in the 2007 World Cup and England in the 2011 World Cup. Captain William Porterfield has a simple philosophy heading into the tournament, saying "anyone can beat anyone."
PLAYING CATCH UP: Afghanistan has been the most improved team in international cricket in recent years despite the domestic disruptions, and has also qualified for next year's World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. Afghanistan is a team to watch in the shortest format with a balanced bowling attack and batsmen like Mohammad Shahzad and Samiullah Shenwari, who are capable of lofty hitting. Seven players in the Afghan squad have played league cricket in Bangladesh, so they're familiar with the conditions. Captain Mohammad Nabi says the T20 format provides his team with its best chance of beating the more established cricket nations.
THE EMIRATES STRIKING BACK: The United Arab Emirates returns to the elite cricket stage after an 18-year absence, having last played in the ICC World Cup on the subcontinent in 1996. The Khurram Khan-led squad consists mainly of part-time players who often use their annual leave to play cricket, but things are likely to change in the coming years after UAE teams qualified for the recent under-19 World Cup as well as the 2015 ODI World Cup. The squad in Bangladesh is coached by former Pakistan paceman Aaqib Javed, who is pushing for players to be given central contracts in an effort to make the UAE system more professional.