Almanac Cricket: Afghanistan pitch for ICC Test Status

Sometimes, you’re at the start of a new phenomenon in sport. It maybe doesn’t happen very often, but it’s all the more precious when it does.

 

Afghanistan’s cricketers have been in Scotland for the last week. Some of their squad have endured horror stories in their homeland and few in their ranks have escaped the grievous consequences of the ongoing conflict between the so-called “West” and the equally so-called “Islamic State.”

 

But these are some of the most enthusiastic, energetic sport lovers on the planet. A decade ago, Afghanistan didn’t even even have a coherent cricket structure and they were reliant on missionary work carried out by committed pioneers.

 

And yet, fast forward beyond the days when they were in Division Five of the World Cricket League and you will find these extraordinary cricketers are now close to earning full-blown ICC Test status.

 

“That’s what we want, but we know it will take time,” said their captain, Asghar Stanikzai on Tuesday. “We are pleased with recent results, but this is only the start of the journey.”

 

For the uninitiated, these “recent results” include beating Zimbabwe in 10 out of 14 games as the prelude to the World T20 event in India in March. On their debut in such exalted company, the team, coached by Pakistan legend, Inzamam Ul-Haq, reduced England to 85 for 7.

 

Then, in their next fixture, they beat the West Indies: the same star-studded individuals – in the limited-overs sphere – who ended up winning the whole tournament after little-known Carlos Brathwaite hit England’s Ben Stokes for four consecutive 6s in a fantastic final.

 

Some people may imagine that Afghanistan might just be another ephemeral success story. But that’s to ignore the passion, pride, patriotic zeal and potent panache of these emerging cricket warriors.

 

They were dragged out of their comfort zone in Scotland. The weather was rotten and it was amazing how often the heavens opened just as a decent tussle seemed to be breaking out.

 

Yet, here is the news. Afghanistan are now clearly the most likely country to progress onto the Test circuit if the ICC gets round to creating a two-tier structure in the next few years.

 

They have ambition and ability in abundance. Their government is even talking about making the game part of the school curriculum. And, in comparison with their Associate rivals, they are developing a nasty streak which any side requires to flourish at the highest level.

 

The ICC has certainly been convinced. Earlier this year, the sport’s governing body gave Afghanistan and Ireland $500,000 each to help them advance their hopes of progressing in the game.

 

This cash probably won’t help the Irish, who have achieved an awful lot with modest resources at various World Cups, but whose leading personnel are in danger of scaling the summit only to topple to earth as the clock ticks down on their elite.

 

That isn’t a problem for Afghanistan, on the evidence of their visit to Scotland. In the first of the two-game ODI series, they were a class above the hosts in advancing to 283 for 4, with Rahmat Shah hitting an unbeaten 100, only for the weather to rain on their parade.

 

Not that it mattered. 48 hours later, the conditions were hardly any better, but big bold Mohammad Shahzad – proof of what might happen if David Warner morphed into the Incredible Hulk – struck 84 as the Afghan line-up set the Scots a Duckworth-Lewis target of 211 from 36 overs.

 

Thereafter, despite an early blitzkrieg from the Scottish top order, they collapsed in a sorry heap to 132 all out and an emphatic 77-run defeat. Stanikzai’s men thoroughly deserved their triumph and this despite performing in alien conditions.

 

The outcome demonstrated yet again that this Afghanistan team have amassed a mighty amount of momentum as they strive to climb into the Test echelon. They have already proved they are better than Zimbabwe and who is to say they won’t repeat that feat against Bangladesh and even the West Indies in the next two years?

 

Now, the question is what the ICC does next. They fudged the issue at their meeting in Edinburgh last week, and the suspicion persists that the likes of Zimbabwe – who are still bafflingly ICC Full Members – and Bangladesh and Sri Lanka will do their utmost to thwart the aspirations of the new kids on the block.

 

Yet Afghanistan have something irresistible about them. As one of their fans said on Wednesday: “Our dream is coming true. We want to play England and Australia and India – and we will!”

 

Don’t rule anything out with this wonderfully spirited group!

 

Comments

  1. Luke Reynolds says:

    Well done Neil. What an amazing story Afghani cricket is. Their capacity to produce talented players will hold them in good stead. The big worry is their continued inability to play at home, we could soon have the possibility of three Test nations (Afghanistan, Pakistan and possibly Bangladesh) unable to play at home, hardly ideal for a proposed home and away Test Championship. So disappointing the ICC couldn’t sort out the future at the Edinburgh meeting. Afghanistan, Ireland and the other associates need incentive and proper structure.

  2. Richie and Eddie says:

    Loved this piece Neil

  3. Neil Drysdale says:

    Thanks for the kind words. I really feel Afghanistan have brought something new and positive to cricket, but Luke makes a very good point about them being unable to host games. As you say, Pakistan are in the same position, England are considering whether to go to Bangladesh and almost nobody wants to travel to Zimbabwe. It’s a mess which is not being addressed.

Leave a Comment

*