Can Afghans Take T20 Success Into I-Cup?
Afghanistan proved with a vengeance during the recent World T20 that they have made rapid progress on the limited-overs stage.
They not only reduced England to 85 for 7, but were the only side at the event to beat the eventual champions, West Indies.
However, the Afghan personnel have bigger ambitions than just excelling in one-day cricket And they will be searching for fresh success when they take on Namibia in the final match of the third round of the four-day first-class ICC Intercontinental Cup on Sunday in Delhi.
They have a chance to leapfrog their way from fifth to third. However, to make that happen, the former champions will have to collect the 20 maximum points which are on offer.
Afghanistan, who struggled against Scotland, will start as favourites against their African rivals, but their redoubtable coach, Inzamam-Ul-Haq is taking nothing for granted, given the wafer-thin margins which divide many of the combatants in the extended competition.
Their captain Asghar Stanikzai recognises the reality that his men are entering a totally different sphere. But, recalling the driving force behind their outstanding T20 performances, the skipper said: “Passion for this great game, commitment, unity, hard work, courage and the pride of playing for our country, drives us.
“Now we are representing our country on the international stage, the players are very committed and eager to achieve a clear goal to help their team progress to the elite level, to play and beat big names at the highest level.
“We have struggled a lot to achieve our current status, now we will try to maintain it and try to achieve Test status.”
Coach Inzamam-ul-Haq added that his motivated personnel will aim to build on their recent momentum. But he appreciates there are no easy opponents in the tournament.
“It was a very successful event for us even though we won just one match. But the way the side played throughout the competition against more experienced and seasoned players is commendable.
“We should have won more than one match, but success in the last match against eventual champion West Indies is something we will like to take into the ICC Intercontinental Cup. The win against the West Indies has given us tremendous confidence and faith that we can win against more formidable opponents.
“Without being over-confident and complacent, we need to build on that success and continue to play with a no-fear approach.
“We shouldn’t be scared of losing matches as this will only keep us away from success. If the approach is positive and the boys continue to back their natural aggressive style of play, they will not only be successful in this competition but in future as well.”
Inzamam said his players had a reputation of being T20 specialists because the world has not seen them play in the longer version of the game. “I agree that the Afghanistan players have earned the reputation of being quality twenty20 players, but I have seen them play in the longer version and I can tell you they are equally good.
“The more Afghanistan players play against bigger nations and the more their four-day matches are live-streamed or broadcast, I am sure the pundits will start believing that we have an all-round side, which is not only capable of playing all the formats but also giving a few sides a run for their money.
“The Afghanistan players have been playing Twenty20 cricket for the past couple of months and it will be a good test of their skills and temperament as they will have to shift gears and adapt to the requirements of four-day cricket.
“This is all part of the learning curve and I am sure these opportunities will only make them a better side.”
Afghanistan are currently in fifth place in the Intercontinental Cup standings, unbeaten on 21 points, gained from two outings, the first of which was a drawn match against Scotland – where they were fortunate to escape with a share of the spoils – and the second a comprehensive 201-run win against PNG in November last year.
Namibia meanwhile is in seventh place, just one above bottom side UAE, with one win and one loss to its credit, the win coming against Hong Kong, last May, while the loss was a heavy one, by an innings and 107 runs to Ireland last October.
Ireland lead the table, currently undefeated, with a maximum 60 points from wins against UAE, Namibia and PNG, after three rounds, 14 ahead of second- placed Netherlands. Hong Kong is in third on 30 points, while Scotland is in fourth on 23 points.
Inzamam concluded that the wicket for the Namibian tussle was likely to suit spinners. “I think the spinners will enjoy bowling on this track. So, I look forward to seeing not only some solid performances by the slow bowlers but also by the batters because they will have to be smart, intelligent and selective with their stroke-selection.”
There is plenty at stake for all eight teams participating in the Intercontinental Cup, because the winners stand to qualify for the ICC Test Challenge, which will be played against the 10th-ranked Test side on a home and away basis in 2018.