With Afghanistan beating Bangladesh in the recent one-off test match at Chittagong, there was a lot of talk as to why the Afghans aren’t playing more test Cricket! Beating Bangladesh who currently take part in the World Test championship by the way, is no small deal. This is test cricket we are talking about – the phenomenon that takes place over 5 long, gruelling days, and not a 3 hour occasion thats popularly called T20 cricket!
Cricket – the king or queen – of all sports, proved it’s mettle even to the vile establishment of the Taliban, who had banned every sport in existence but revoked the ban from cricket. A nation that was doing fairly well until it got embroiled in war, is now poised for world dominance in cricket. Cricket gained popularity in the sometimes hot and sometimes cold Afghanistan only in the 90’s when Afghans living abroad would come back to play the sport in makeshift grounds and stadiums. The sport’s popularity probably saw an increase with children learning the tricks of the trade in refugee camps and in the areas close to the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (the then NWFP). With the emergence of Pashtun players in the Pakistan National team, these children soon got their role models. It wouldn’t be unfair to say that players like Shahid Afridi, Younis Khan and Umar Gul probably paved the way for the Afghan cricketers of today. And what a way that has been! For a team that played its first international match just about 10 years ago, they’ve come a long way in a very short time. After beating established associate nations like Kenya, Zimbabwe, Ireland and Scotland convincingly in the Intercontinental Cup held in advance of the 2015 World Cup, it was expected that the team will go on to make amends for time lost on the international stage. If one looks at the stats, they’re unbelievable and equally serene (for any cricket lover). Afghanistan have tied an ODI match with India, beat Sri Lanka and West-Indies (more than once) and won more than they have lost against all Associate nations.
Gaining Test Status and beating Bangladesh!
But it was their admission to test status that brought the nation and the team a new high – one they had never experienced before. There might have been a hint of overconfidence when their then captain suggested that they had the best spinner in the world (while that might be true of Rashid in T20s and ODIs, test Cricket still remained a different beast) and were capable of taking 20 wickets. But after being bowled out twice in one day against India, the Afghans were handed a proper beating, losing the match by an innings and 262 runs. The glaring mistakes in the defeat weren’t quite what the numbers show. The batsmen displayed a lack of match awareness and were totally outplayed in all departments.
But they learnt so well that they handed Ireland a defeat in the very next match they played. But Bangladesh was to be no Ireland. A seasoned test team with world-class players would definitely be a much sterner test you would think. Bangladesh – a team that was admitted into test cricket 20 years ago, has dominated touring teams such as the likes of Australia and South Africa nonetheless, in the past ! But the Afghans came through this challenge victorious. Challenged by the weather, the team had a small window to win the match and squandered no opportunities to make sure victory was theirs. One of the youngest test captains of all time, Rashid Khan grabbed 11 wickets, and Rahmat Shah notched up a century. There were also invaluable contributions from Mohd Nabi and Asghar Afghan. A huge moment indeed for Afghan Cricket!
The future and what needs to be done!
The past cannot be fixed, but the future can be. Afghanistan have showed the same promise that Sri Lanka did, during their introduction to the international stage. But for this promise to change into consistency and prolonged success, they need to keep playing more tests. The team also needs experienced coaches and support staff to ensure that they’re equipped to beat the cricketing giants. Lance Klusener’s recent appointment as Head Coach is a step in the right direction. Gaining match fitness should also be a priority and the introduction of the Yo-Yo test would indeed be a good start on that front.
Afghanistan’s home ground at Noida has given them access to India’s wealth of cricketing knowledge and experts. I am sure that former Indian cricketers would gladly even volunteer their time to add value to the national team’s talent and hard-work. The ICC also needs to ensure that Afghanistan sees more opportunity to gain success on the international stage. A way to ensure that for a start would be to get the Afghan team to tour other countries and play their B teams. What would also be a really good gesture would be for every visiting team playing a test series in India, to play a couple of ‘practice’ tests against Afghanistan before playing India. This would give the team good exposure to visiting parties and lots of test-match practice. The ICC along with the Afghanistan Cricket Board, need to also develop a roadmap featuring a successful test series outside of Asia as a 10 year-goal (and by successful we mean a winning campaign). The Big 3 of the cricketing world could also play a role in it, by hosting the Afghan National players in their cricketing academies and ensuring that the spread of cricket gets new wings through cricket’s new-comers.
Cricket is powerful. Cricket is so powerful that Hillary Clinton once said “I might suggest that if we are searching for a model of how to meet tough international challenges with skill, dedication and teamwork, we need only look to the Afghan national cricket team. For those of you who don’t follow cricket, which is most of the Americans, suffice it to say that Afghanistan did not even have a cricket team a decade ago. And last month, the team made it to the World Twenty20 championships featuring the best teams in the world. Well, today, we have our own top teams from the Afghan and U.S. governments.”
World leaders who’ve probably not watched more than a few minutes of the game in their whole lives, made note of it when Afghanistan played their first T20 World-Cup. Cricket lovers like us who’ve spent our entire lives watching cricket know that test match cricket is an even bigger deal and for the spread of joy and the game of cricket, it is necessary that Afghanistan is equipped with a vision for the future and are provided the tools necessary to keep succeeding.