CHENNAI: After getting Affiliate status in 2001, Afghanistan have had a roller-coaster of a journey. One that received a boost when they received Test and full member status from the International Cricket Council last Thursday.
This happiness was evident not only in the senior team, but also their juniors, who are in Chennai for a training camp ahead of the U-19 World Cup qualifiers to be held in Singapore in July.
“This shows the improvement of Afghanistan cricket, and the passion back home for the sport,” says U-19 head coach Daulat Ahmed Zai, a former national player.
The team, consisting of 18 players and six supporting staff, has travelled more than 2,600km to train in the city. “Conditions and climate here are similar to Singapore. That’s why we chose to have a training camp here,” explains Zai.
Hailing from the Pashtun clan, on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan, Parwiz Malik Zai says cricket back home is similar to what people play everywhere.
“First, you have to play in your province, then for the region and then you need to outplay boys in national camps to play for the nation. We see cricket as a profession and not just sport,” says the 19-year-old batsman who represented his country at last year’s U-19 World Cup.
Parwiz, unlike other teens, began by playing with national team players through his brother, before playing with proper training and guidance.
“I used to play with Rashid. He and Nabi playing in the IPL was a big message and motivation to youngsters, especially those living in remote areas,” said the player whose cricketing idol countrymate Noor Ali Zardan.
For head coach Daulat, the way people responded to his wicket of Gautam Gambhir at the 2010 World T20 is different from how they see Rashid picking wickets now.
“This time, more people (especially youngsters) are involved. Afghanistan Cricket Board is benefiting from players like Nabi and Rashid, who inspire more players to take up cricket. More than five lakh people play cricket in the country. Though infrastructure is not enough, we’ve improved a lot over the years by providing more turfs and academies,” he says, adding he’s confident his team would qualify for the World cup.
Asked who he would prefer see as the seniors’ first Test match opponents, Daulat said, “As coach, I would suggest they start against Zimbabwe, and not against stronger teams. But if Afghanistan are playing India, it’ll be a learning experience for the boys.”