The cricketing world knows Afghanistan by their exploits in limited-overs internationals and the performances of the likes of Rashid Khan and Mohammad Nabi in various Twenty20 leagues around the world, but as the newest full ICC member prepares for its first five-day examination, the board’s top officials are confident that the team can hold its own against the top Test side in the world.
Afghanistan and Ireland gained Test status in June last year. While the Irish will make their debut in the longest format of the game against Pakistan at Malahide in May, the Afghans will do so against India in Bengaluru from June 14-18.
And the top officials of the Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB) believe they have enough talent coming through the ranks to become a competitive member of the international Test family before long. “We have a lot of good junior players emerging in our country. It is raw talent which needs polish and exposure. We aim to become a competitive Test side in the next three years,” chief executive officer of the Afghanistan Cricket Board Shafiq Asmat Stanikzai said on Tuesday.
Players from Afghanistan are known more for their prowess in shorter forms of the game. Nabi and Rashid were the first players from their country to appear in the Indian Premier League, after they were snapped up by Sunrisers Hyderabad for last year’s edition. They are also featuring in the ongoing Big Bash League in Australia Nabi for Melbourne Renegades and Rashid for Adelaide Strikers). But Stanikzai believes Afghanistan have it in them to excel in the multi-day format.
“We have won the ICC Intercontinental Cup twice, and were runners-up once. We have a functional first-class system back home and a pool of 170 full-time players. Facing India in our first Test will be a mighty challenge, but we are confident of providing them good preparation for the tour of England on which they will embark on soon afterwards,” he said.
The visitors are also likely to have a preparatory camp and one or more practice matches in India before the Test.
It is likely to be Afghanistan’s only Test before the 50-over World Cup next year, which will soon be the major focus for them. They will be part of a 10-team qualifying tournament in Zimbabwe in March, from which the top two will advance to the cricket showpiece in England.
Afghanistan has not been able to play at home for security reasons, and India has often been their home base, recently at Greater Noida. The ACB has requested BCCI for another venue which it can use to stage its ‘home’ matches.
“Not playing at home is a major setback for us. We are not able to showcase the Afghan flavour of cricket. We have hosted some matches in the UAE, but it suits us more to have the games in India as it costs less and the conditions are to our liking. Always playing away is a challenge. However, all our senior players participate in our domestic competitions, which allow the local fans to watch their heroes in action and also inspire the upcoming cricketers,” Stanikzai said.