Afghanistan will make history on June 14 when they face India in Bengaluru to take their place as only the the 12th Test nation. The one-off Test between India vs Afghanistan will cap one of the great sporting fairy tales after players from the war-torn nation rose from refugee camps to join cricket’s elite. However, India skipper Virat Kohli will be absent from the historic Test, having opted for a county stint with Surrey to prepare for India’s all-important tour of England. Not wanting to delve too much into the matter, Afghanistan captain Asghar Stanikzai played down Indian skipper’s absence saying that Team India has other players that play at the level of Kohli.
“All Indian players are good and everyone is (a similar standard to) Virat Kohli. I believe we are playing with Team India and not with Virat Kohli,” said Stanikzai.
Even without Kohli, Afghanistan seems unlikely to trouble the world’s number one Test side but Stanikzai says the conditions will suit his team.
“Indian conditions are good for spin and we are lucky to have good spinners,” said Stanikzai.
“Our batsmen are in good form. In the last three or four years our team combination is good. We will try and play good and positive cricket.
“Winning and losing does not matter.”
Not just cricketing history beckons for the country’s cricket stars but it will be a matter of bringing happiness to a nation torn and pounded by decades of conflict.
As Islamist attacks regularly shake their homeland, Stanikzai said his team are suffering too — but are also motivated to give the country something to cheer.
“It is very difficult. We get very sad when we hear about attacks in our country,” Stanikzai told AFP at the team’s training base near Delhi.
“But we don’t lose our morale, we will try even more to win because the whole nation will be waiting for us to win, the whole nation will be very happy when we win.”
Stanikzai, 30, added with a smile: “Our wins give energy to the Afghan nation. We will try to change their sorrow to happiness.”
Afghanistan secured their prestigious Test status last year along with Ireland, who are playing their debut five-day match against Pakistan in Dublin.
Since gaining ODI status in 2009 the Afghans have made giant strides, reaching the 50-over World Cup for the first time in 2015.
It was no flash in the pan: Afghanistan also qualified for next year’s World Cup by topping the 10-team qualifying tournament in Zimbabwe, beating West Indies in the final.
From refugees to world-beaters
After a generation of Afghans learned cricket in refugee camps in Pakistan, the game has quickly taken hold, and domestic competitions include a popular T20 tournament which began in 2013.
Afghan cricketers are also becoming world-beaters, with prolific teenage spinner Rashid Khan now one of the sport’s hottest properties.
In March, the 19-year-old became the fastest bowler to reach 100 one-day international wickets, and he is currently the world’s top-ranked bowler in T20 internationals.
Khan, one of a handful of Afghan players in IPL 2018, has been one of the competition’s best bowlers with 13 wickets after SunRisers Hyderabad snapped him up for USD 1.41 million.
But Stanikzai said that as well as Khan and Mujeeb Ur Rahman, who is also impressing in the IPL, Afghanistan has even more talented spinners waiting to emerge.
“Rashid and Mujeeb have been performing really well and it is a proud moment for us. But we also have better spinners in Afghanistan,” said Stanikzai.
“We have a lot of good spinners in Afghanistan, like Qais Ahmad and other spinners who will do better than Rashid,” he added.