Cricket's most heart-warming story
At one level, the ICC World Twenty20, which begins in Guyana on Friday, is just another opportunity for cricket's 10 elite Test nations to squabble over yet another trophy.
Out of dozens of associate and affiliate nations keen for a crack at the big time, there is room for just two additional qualifiers. But one of them, remarkably, is war-torn Afghanistan. The ultimate underdogs, in sport as in any walk of life, they only became recognised as a cricketing nation in 2001.
The 11 men who will take on millionaire Indian superstars like Mahendra Dhoni and Harbhajan Singh on 1 May in the idyllic tourist haven of St Lucia grew up in the bleak surroundings of the refugee camps in Pakistan, following the Soviet invasion of their homeland in 1979.
The journey from there to cricket's top table is one of the most heartening stories in sport, and one of the most unlikely.
The success of the national team has inspired many Afghans to take up cricket
Throughout the 1980s in Afghanistan, the Mujahideen, supported by the West, battled the Soviet Union in what became one of the most extended and fiercest conflicts of the Cold War.
Meanwhile, over the border in Pakistan, the gentler art of cricket was being introduced to the first children born to the new Afghan expatriates. Those children grew to love the game, and when they were finally able to return home, they continued to play cricket.
Their desire to form an Afghanistan team was eventually approved by the International Cricket Council, though it has largely been self-motivation on a shoestring budget that has carried them through since then. Of the £1m in funding provided by the ICC since 2003, the bulk of it only arrived last year, once full one-day international status had been achieved.
The final chapter of this extraordinary story began in May 2008.
Fledgling appearances in tournaments run by the Asian Cricket Council earned Afghanistan a world ranking of 29 when they arrived in Division Five of the newly-formed World Cricket League in Jersey.
But money was so scarce that debut film-maker Leslie Knott remembers the players scrounging around for pound coins so they could go to get something to eat.
Knott, a Canadian photojournalist based in the Afghan capital, Kabul, was one of a small pocket of Westerners working in the media intrigued by the advent of this young team.
Her friend - the Times correspondent in Kabul, Tim Albone - suggested they follow the exploits of these young cricketers and make what would become the first documentary either had worked on.
Samiullah Shenwari, a 22-year-old all-rounder, is a valuable member of the current squad
Underfed or otherwise, Afghanistan swept aside Japan in their first match in Jersey and topped their group, before beating the hosts in the final. Knott, a newcomer to cricket with unrestricted access to the team through the coach Taj Malik, was hooked.
"The tournament was amazing, but we knew we had to get some more money together so we could carry on filming them. People were starting to get interested," she says.
In Tanzania in Division Four, Afghanistan were involved in some very close finishes but still won every match. They moved on to Argentina (Division Three), and Knott noticed something that appeared to set these cricketers apart from others.
After an early defeat to Uganda, there were worries in the Afghanistan camp. One night leading fast bowler Hameed Hassan was close to despair.
"Hameed had a breakdown, he was crying out and sobbing," she says. "I asked him 'What's going on?' He said 'Leslie, I have seen people killed, I have seen people shot and never shed one tear. But this cricket hits me right in the heart and I can't control it. It's too emotional for me.' "
Again, Afghanistan pulled through, and stayed on course for the big time.
In April 2009, the juggernaut was finally halted. They agonisingly missed out on one of four qualifying spots for the 2011 World Cup in the subcontinent.
But 10 months later that disappointment was forgotten when victory over the UAE in Dubai on 13 February put Afghanistan through to the World Twenty20, and for good measure they followed up by beating the other qualifiers, Ireland, in the final.
I spoke to Hameed on a crackling phoneline as the team made their final preparations before their trip to the Caribbean.
"We are not thinking about playing like Shahid Afridi or Virender Sehwag or Sachin Tendulkar," says the 22-year-old. "We are just playing our best so that we are not nervous for the World Twenty20, just very, very excited.
"I've had a great experience, I love my cricket. And the fans... all the time they follow the team, sending prayers, messages and lots of wishes. When we go back from any tour they come to the airport and celebrate with the team.
"After the troubles of the last few years, everybody now is just trying to think about us doing well, and we are hungry for trophies, and hope we can do better for our nation."
Hameed and his team-mates have shared experiences that their opponents in the Caribbean - after India they face South Africa in their second group game - will find difficult to relate to.
Knott explains: "One of the reserve players was killed by American forces, most of them have lost siblings, either to illness or war, there's been a lot of suffering. But what they are doing now is making history. This is the one chance they have.
"They have known each other since they were six or seven years old and are completely in tune with each other, which is why they are so close. They are like brothers. When not playing cricket, back in Afghanistan they hang out together all the time.
"There's no rivalry between them, they really want to see each member perform well. They are doing everything they can to make Afghanistan proud of them."
Given the continued fragile state of the country, few of the players have an alternative career path if cricket fails. Those whose parents survive work as tradesmen, shopkeepers, or have small businesses. None are wealthy.
Facilities are still non-existent; home games are played in the UAE, in Sharjah. But the first proper ground within Afghanistan is finally being built, near Jalalabad, along with a cricket academy funded by the US embassy. There is also talk of formulating a domestic competition.
"Now is the time for investment to be made," says Knott. "They are riding on a wave of mass excitement with a message that Afghanistan has something else to offer the world other than Taliban, burkhas and war. The talent is there and the will of international agencies to make it happen is there.
The team arriving back in Kabul after qualifying for the ICC World Twenty20
"There are so many people with nothing to do. They could be playing cricket a lot. Afghan people are very naturally athletic, they are physically strong and mentally strong. The under-19 team was in the World Cup, which is anther great success story, and there are a lot of girl cricketers. Cricketing success is sustainable."
Hassan adds: "Two or three years ago, nobody was interested in cricket too much. Now you will see lots of children playing around on the streets and fields.
"This is a very good thing. People are learning cricket and lots of people will try to play for Afghanistan. There is more and more interest in the game."
My conversation with Knott takes place on the day the whole Afghanistan team are filming a TV commercial in Dubai. It's a day-long shoot involving rehearsals, make-up, and directed by a Bollywood film crew.
It is seeing the attention lavished on the players that makes her think back to the rainy days in Jersey less than two years previously when they struggled to pay for their fast-food orders. The contrast is hard to absorb.
Hassan, meanwhile, does not see the World Twenty20 as the pinnacle of Afghanistan's achievements.
"The guys in the team are mostly in their early 20s, all the boys are young and fit so we hope to keep the same squad for five or six years. Test cricket is definitely an ambition."
May the dream continue.