When the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) announced it will host Afghanistan for its first ever Test, it took some time to sink in. Afghanistan Cricket Board chief executive officer Shafiq Stanikzai says the whole country welcomed the news with great joy. In a chat with The Indian Express, he talks about what Test status means to them, how the BCCI lent a helping hand and the challenge that lie ahead of them. Excerpts:
How did you get to know about India Test?
The last week has been a shocker both for players and the Afghan board. We got beaten by Ireland in an ODI series in our home conditions in Sharjah. We lost our 10th position, that we had for the last two years. The team had just landed from Dubai when we got the news. It was really pleasing. The whole country welcomes the news of us playing Test cricket, that too against India. This will be important for Afghanistan, both politically and cricket-wise. We all have dreamt of playing Test cricket one day and we are happy to reach this stage. But the real challenge starts now.
Don’t you think Afghanistan cricket needs to move forward from the issues faced by people back home?
I have been asked this many times now. I agree with what you say. The challenge for Afghanistan lies ahead when they play big teams. Since earning Test status, people here are expecting us to win everything. The expectations of people are sky-high. It won’t be an easy ride. We have to work harder than before. We have fought all odds to reach where we are today. We will give a good fight to any Test-playing nation.
What has been the response back home?
The entire nation is very happy. Earning Test status was a dream come true for the entire country. The response has been great. The news was all over radio, TV, newspapers, everywhere. For a team like Afghanistan, it’s a great thing. I would like to thank BCCI for allowing us to play our inaugural Test match at their home. Everyone is excited here, but I feel the real competition starts now.
ACB has a good relationship with BCCI. It must have been a help?
When I took over as CEO in 2014, I made a personal request to our President Ashraf Ghani to help us have a good diplomatic relationship with BCCI. I remember when I was in Scotland in 2015, I got a phone call from Ghani saying he had conveyed my message to Mr Modi (Prime Minister) and we will have a press conference in this regard soon. And then I met (former BCCI president) Anurag Thakur many times in Delhi and also in Asian Cricket Council meetings twice. Thakur was inspirational and because of him, we got our players in the IPL. We were allowed to practise in India and play games in Delhi (Greater Noida) too. India has been a big help for us, like an elder brother, for the past few years.
Will the Afghanistan team be going to India before the Test?
Our schedule is very tight as we are preparing for the World Cup qualifiers to be held next year. We might go to South Africa before we compete for the World Cup qualifiers, to be held in Zimbabwe.