SHARJAH  - Fast-rising Afghanistan will open another chapter in their remarkable story when they play their first one-day international against former world champions Australia on Saturday.

War-torn Afghanistan, who gained affiliate membership from the International Cricket Council (ICC) in 2001, took a giant leap two years ago by finishing fifth in the World Cup qualifiers. That earned them the right to play one-day internationals.

They built on their success by qualifying for the World Twenty20 in 2010 and again earned the right to play the same event in Sri Lanka next month. Afghanistan are regarded as a success story in international cricket with most of their players learning the game while living in refugee camps on the border with Pakistan after the Soviet invasion of their country in 1979.

Afghanistan captain Nawroz Mangal admitted playing Australia is a big occasion for his team. "Definitely, it's a big occasion for us and we want to make the best use of it," said Mangal. "We have done well against Scotland and Ireland but given a chance against Australia is a big thing and we are excited about it."

Afghanistan took the first step towards playing bigger teams when they faced Pakistan in a one-day match in Sharjah in February and although they lost by seven wickets their performance proved they deserved more chances. "We are thankful to Australia and to the ICC for making this possible," said Mangal, who has played 21 of the 22 one-dayers Afghanistan have contested so far.

"Australia are real champions and hopefully we can put up a good show." The 28-year-old Afghan captain hopes his players can improve if they are given more chances against the world's leading sides. "Definitely it's our dream to play matches against top teams and if we get such chances regularly our players will improve," said Mangal. Paceman Hamid Hasan, who with 24 wickets in 14 one-dayers is a star performer, will miss the match as he is still recovering from knee surgery. Australian captain Michael Clarke hoped his team adjust quickly to conditions, especially with the oppressive heat.

"They (Afghanistan) know the conditions well than we do but we will try to get accustomed with the conditions quickly," said Clarke. "Afghanistan have some good fast bowlers upfront so it will be good cricket."

"When we left England (in July this year) we were still the number one-ranked team in the world but because of other teams playing, we've slipped back down to four," Clarke told a press conference. "But to me it's about playing really good consistent cricket all around the world and I know we'll get back to being number one," said Clarke.

The ICC, which contributes approximately 700,000 dollars a year to help develop the game in the newest cricketing nation, showed great delight in the Australia-Afghanistan match. "This fixture supports ICC's initiative to provide more opportunities for our top ranking Associate/Affiliate Member teams to play against better opposition," ICC president Alan Isaac said last month. "We have already seen Pakistan play Afghanistan in Sharjah this year in a high-quality match and we must commend Australia for creating this opportunity," said Isaac, who took over as president in June this year.


AUSTRALIA: Michael Clarke (capt), David Warner (vice-capt), George Bailey, Dan Christian, Xavier Doherty, Callum Ferguson, David Hussey, Michael Hussey, Mitchell Johnson, Glenn Maxwell, Alister McDermott, James Pattinson, Steven Smith, Mitchell Starc, Matthew Wade.

AFGHANISTAN: Nawroz Mangal (captain), Mohammad Nabi, Mohammad Shehzad, Karim Sadiq, Asghar Stanikzai, Samiullah Shinwarai, Javed Ahmedi, Najeebullah Zadran, Gulbadin Naib, Dowlat Zadran, Shapoor Zadran, Izzatullah Dawlatzai, Noor Ali Zadran, Rahmat Shah Zuramatai, Mohammad Sami Agha.