Afghanistan becomes the 12th Test cricket playing full member nation of the International Cricket Council (ICC) when they take on India in their inaugural test match at the M Chinnaswamy stadium in Bengaluru from the 14th to the 18th of June. It is the culmination of an amazing journey for a nation that has long suffered due to war and unrest.
Afghanistan as a nation built a strong passion for the game of cricket in the 1990’s when most of the young men started playing cricket as a pastime while spending time at refugee camps in Pakistan. The sport grew in popularity in the war-torn nation with people seeking places of solace. The Afghanistan Cricket Board was formed in 1995 with them becoming an affiliate member of the ICC in 2001 and a member of the Asian Cricket Council (ACC) in 2003. On the 22nd of June 2017, the ICC granted full Test status to Afghanistan along with Ireland. Now, let’s have a quick peek at Afghanistan’s hard journey towards achieving this goal.
Cricket in Afghanistan can be attributed to the colonial rule of the British and has been enjoyed by many a youngster in the country. The Taliban banned all sports but only the game of cricket was accepted by the regime in 2000. Afghanistan got their T20 status in 2010 and their ODI status during the 2011 cricket world cup qualifying tournament. They continued to play cricket in regional tournaments and in tournaments organized by the ACC and ICC. Their mercurial rise started in 2012 with the side qualifying for the ICC T20 world cup held in Sri Lanka. Then they qualified for the 2015 ICC cricket world cup beating Kenya to finish 2nd in the WCL championship. During the 2015 world cup, they won their 1st cricket world cup match by beating Scotland. In the 2016 T20 world cup, the Afghani’s defeated the eventual winners West Indies, which shot them to instant stardom. They also defeated Zimbabwe to qualify to the super 10 stage of the tournament. They’ve continued to thrive at world tournaments becoming constant winners in ICC Intercontinental Cup, World Cup Qualifier, T20 Qualifier, World Cricket League (WCL), Asian Games, ACC Premier League and ACC T20 Cup plus in multiple bi-lateral tours Zimbabwe, West Indies and to other countries.
The Afghanistan cricket team is now filled with international stars that have become regulars in major international league tournaments. Players such as Rashid Khan, Mohammad Nabi, Mujeeb Ur Rahman have not only been selected to play in T20 tournaments such as PSL, IPL, BPL and the CPL but have performed admirably well to capture the hearts of many cricket fans. The Afghanistan squad for their inaugural test match has not been named yet. But let’s take a look at a few household names from this cricket crazy country that might make it to the playing 11. The 31-year-old right-hander Asghar Stanikzai who is the regular skipper of the ODI and T20 sides may most probably have the honor of leading the side in the 1st test match. 19-year-old sensation Rashid Khan might be appointed as his deputy. The leg-spinner is probably the best leg spin bowler in the world at present in the shorter formats of the game and it will be interesting to see how he performs in the test arena. Rashid has the 2 best bowling figures for Afghanistan in ODI cricket with 7 for 18 against the West Indies and 6 for 43 against Ireland. Mohammad Shahzad is the playmaker in the side and is a dashing opening batsman. He has scored over 2000 runs in ODI cricket and has the highest score by an Afghanistan batsman in international cricket scoring 131 not out against Zimbabwe. Mohammad Nabi, Nawroz Mangal, and Karim Sadiq at the age of 33 and 34 respectively are the most experienced players in the side. Nabi is a genuine all-rounder accounting for the most runs and most wickets for Afghanistan in ODI cricket with 2287 runs and 103 wickets. Samiullah Shenwari is an attacking middle order batsman and along with Rahmat Shah and Gulbadin Naib could form the middle-order batting unit.
Warrior-like fast bowler Dawlat Zadran was tipped to lead the bowling attack for Afghanistan. However, the pace bowler suffered an injury during a training camp in India which may sideline him for the 1st test match. Hameed Hassan will thus spearhead the bowling unit with Shapoor Zadran, Mirwais Ashraf, Yamin Ahmadzai for support. Afghanistan has also unearthed another mystery spinner in 17-year-old Mujeeb Ur Raham (a.k.a Mujeeb Zadran). He was a revelation in the under-19 world cup and performed admirably well for Kings XI Punjab in IPL 2018. Mir Hamza may find a place in the side as a slow left-arm orthodox bowler if a spinning wicket is presented to them in Bengaluru.
Phil Simmons the former West Indies all-rounder is the head coach of Afghanistan with Monty Desai from India as the batting coach and ex-Protea fast bowler Charl Langeveldt as the bowling coach. John Mooney the ex-Irish all-rounder is their fielding coach who will closely monitor the fielding efforts of the side as it is one of the key aspects in International cricket.
Ajinkya Rahane will lead India in place of Virat Kohli, who opted to play county cricket for Surrey cricket club. The side will include openers Shikhar Dhawan, Murali Vijay, KL Rahul who will vie for the two opener’s slots. Test match specialist Cheteshwar Pujara will bat at number 3 with Karun Nair tipped to bat at Virat Kohli’s position of number 4. With Rahane at 5 and Hardik Pandya at 6, the Indian’s still have a very strong top-heavy batting unit. Wriddhiman Saha, undoubtedly the best wicket-keeper batsman in the world will definitely play along with Ravi Ashwin, Ravi Jadeja, and Kuldeep Yadav as spin options. Umesh Yadav, Ishant Sharma, and Mohammed Shami are the pace bowlers in the side who will fight for 2 places in the playing 11.
Join us on the 14th of June as a group of determined young men from Afghanistan takes the field in whites. It will be an emotional day for the players, families and fans alike. A good match against the world’s top-ranked side is sure to boost the confidence of Afghanistan for the upcoming tournaments.