A one-off Test against India, beginning on Thursday at the Chinnaswamy Stadium, Bengaluru, represents a new dawn in the history of Afghanistan cricket. Its meteoric rise has led to it becoming a Full Member of ICC in 2017, merely sixteen years after its recognition as an upcoming cricketing nation. The progress and development of Afghanistan cricket, both at junior level and with the national side, have not gone unnoticed by the Pathans, established all around the world, including in the UK. Even to this day, pride and honour, remain a top priority, for this most resilient race of Asia.
Initially Afghanistan is set to play all of its home international fixtures in UAE, exactly on the lines of its neighbour Pakistan, who since the shooting incident on the Sri Lankan coach in Lahore in March 2009, has not staged a Test match in their own country. The cricket authorities in Afghanistan and Pakistan, could join hands, in their efforts to bring international cricket back to their respective countries.
Afghanistan, now the third muslim Test nation, behind the two sub-continental sides, Pakistan and Bangladesh, is set to take on the challenges, a red-ball cricket presents, in a five-day contest. Although Afghanistan players have had a fair exposure to international cricket, through its participation in 98 ODIs, including the 2015 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand and in additional 66 in t20 format, including appearances, in the last four editions of The World Twenty20, Afghanistan players have very limited experience of four-day cricket. First-class matches have only been part of the its domestic cricket in the 2017-18 season, with two four-day tournaments named after Ahmed Shah Abdali (1722-72), the founder of the modern-day state of Afghanistan.
The roots of cricket in Afghanistan, a fairly conservative tribal-based Islamic nation, first shot through, outside its borders. The enthusiasm by the youth in the Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan, set up following the Russian invasion of the country in 1979, initiated and formed the basis of Afghanistan Cricket Federation in 1995. With its base in Peshawar, the capital city of then NWFP (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) province of Pakistan, the Federation helped to train and coach the talented cricketers.
The war-torn country, finally got to grips with the game in the post-Taliban period as its application for Affiliate Membership of ICC was accepted in 2001. By now the office had moved from Peshawar to Kabul and the formal registration of Afghanistan Cricket Board, as the governing body of the game in the country. Iqbal Sikander, a member of the 1992 World Cup winning Pakistan squad, was one of the first administrators as Asian Cricket Council (ACC) Development Officer, to help build the infrastructure of the game in Afghanistan, literally from scratch and remains, ‘very proud to be part of that team’.
The Afghan cricketers continue a strong affiliation with the Pakhtun-speaking Pathans in Pakistan. The likes of Imran Khan, Shahid Afridi and Younis Khan the iconic sportsman, were adored both in Peshawar and Kabul. The cross border exchanges have done no harm to the development of Afghanistan cricket as vast majority of its players received their initial coaching and the experience of first-class cricket, in Pakistan. In the period of 2008-10, Kabir Khan, a former Pakistan Test bowler, proved an inspirational figure as head coach of Afghanistan. That post was briefly filled by Inzamam-ul-Haq, who in May 2016, left his job in Kabul, after being named chairman of the selection committee by Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB).
The sensational wrist spinner, Rashid Khan, still few months short of his 20th birthday, is set to be the star attraction in the country’s first-ever Test match. A skilful leg-break bowler, he has stood up to the challenge in both ODIs and t20, not to mention his remarkable success in the IPL (Indian Premier League). He is closely followed by the 17-year old Mujeeb-ur-Rahman, who represents the new generation with all his training and coaching having taken place in Afghanistan. Originating from Khost province, he is a nephew of Noor Ali Zadran, with whom he played alongside for Afghanistan in ODIs in December last year. Dubbed as ‘mystery spinner’ with no previous first-class cricket to his name, Mujeeb, has shown his full range of variety, including a carom ball and a googly, with fair amount of success in IPL. The 33-year old off-spinner, Mohammad Nabi, provides the experience to the spinning trio, set to share the bulk of the bowling, against a powerful Indian batting line-up.
Skipper, Asghar Stanikzai, a middle order batsman, remains the anchor of the young side. Phil Simmons, the present head coach of Afghanistan, has an exciting package in the form of raw courage and natural talent, proudly representing an aggressive warrior race, at his disposal. Regardless of the format, fireworks is the word readily associated with Afghanistan, as it begins its new journey by playing India, the top-ranking team in the ICC Test ranking. The new Test nation, in coming years, has a potential to pose a serious challenge to Bangladesh, Ireland, Sri Lanka, West Indies and Zimbabwe. Exciting times ahead.
Test Match Schedule – June 14th – June 18th 2018
India v Afghanistan
Venue: M.Chinnaswamy Stadium, Bengaluru, India
Time: 09:30 AM LOCAL (04:00 GMT)
Afghanistan Squad: Asghar Stanikzai (C), Mohammad Shahzad, Javed Ahmadi, Ihsanullah Jannat, Rahmat Shah, Nasir Jamal, Hashmatullah Shahidi, Afsar Zazai, Mohammad Nabi, Rashid Khan, Zahir Khan, Hamza Hotak, Syed Ahmad Sherzad, Yamin Ahmadzai, Wafadar Momand, Mujeeb-ur-Rahman
India Squad: Ajinkya Rahane(c), Cheteshwar Pujara, Shikhar Dhawan, Murali Vijay, Lokesh Rahul, Karun Nair, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Kuldeep Yadav, Umesh Yadav, Hardik Pandya, Ishant Sharma, Shardul Thakur, Dinesh Karthik, Navdeep Saini
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