India, Pakistan join hands to push Afghanistan up the cricketing ladder

  • Somshuvra Laha, Hindustan Times, Kolkata
  • Updated: Mar 17, 2016 11:32 IST
Rashid Khan of Afganistan celebrates the wicket of Vusi Sibanda with teammates during the T20 World Cup. (AFP Photo)

As players, Inzamam-ul-Haq and Manoj Prabhakar could perhaps have been on the same team only in an Asian veterans’ XI.

But Afghanistan has managed to get them together in their coaching staff, and are using their experience to build a team that was born from the ashes of war. If the Afghanistan team’s growth is about resilience, it’s also proving to be a platform where, despite political differences, India and Pakistan have come together for a cause.

Inzamam and Prabhakar coming on board has sparked a turnaround for Afghanistan so timely they now find themselves as the only Associate team in the main round of the World Twenty20. “They have been hugely productive for us since they joined. Since they have played a lot of international cricket, they have shared their experience with the team,” said Afghanistan skipper Asghar Stanikzai.

“There’s now a lot of craze in Afghanistan. The people love and support their heroes,and it (qualifying) is a big gift to them. Already cricket is the No 1 game in Afghanistan,” said Stanikzai, ahead of their Super 10 group match against Sri Lanka on Wednesday.

Fast forward

Unlike other Associate teams, Afghanistan’s cricketing history is brief. But thanks to better governance, aided by nations like India, Stanikzai said their cricket awareness is being fast-tracked. They even have a domestic T20 league, a take-off on the Indian Premier League. For the last three years, the Afghan board has been hosting the tournament called ‘Shpajiza’ (six in Pashtun), which refers to the number of provincial teams participating.

“We now have stadiums. We have a tournament that’s not like IPL but close. It’s a league where everyone is playing. We have four-day camps and school and club level cricket. If you go to any of the 34 provinces, we have facility. There’s also a lot of street cricket,” said Stanikzai.

The help extended to Afghanistan was not only in the form of former cricketers from the sub-continent rivals but infrastructure too. Five days before Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the Afghan parliament built by India in Kabul late last year, the cricket board signed an MoU with the BCCI to shift their base from Sharjah to a sprawling training facility in Greater Noida.

The team was also based in Gujarat for a camp ahead of the WT20. “We had very good preparation for the last two months. We went to the two-week camp, played five T20 games, and then were in the Asia Cup. We played three games in the qualifying ground. We went to our home ground in Greater Noida and worked on our fielding, an area where we were lacking. Once again, India proved that they are not only helping Afghanistan with infrastructure of government but also in cricket and other sports. They have really proved the friendship,” said Stanikzai.

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