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Wednesday, Oct 16, 2019

Mumbai cricket coach Umesh Patwal stays put in Afghanistan despite bomb blast

Umesh Patwal is the only Indian involved in the Shpageeza Cricket League. He is the chief coach of Band-e-Amir Dragons which is captained by none other than leg-spinner Rashid Khan.

cricket Updated: Sep 20, 2017 12:08 IST
Sanjjeev K Samyal
Sanjjeev K Samyal
Hindustan Times, Mumbai
Umesh Patwal (R) with Afghanistan star Rashid Khan during the Shpageeza Cricket League.
Umesh Patwal (R) with Afghanistan star Rashid Khan during the Shpageeza Cricket League.(HT Photo)

For those in the Mumbai cricket fraternity who know him well, Umesh Patwal has been a bit of a daredevil. Last Wednesday, he had a tough choice to make after a suicide bomb attack at the Kabul International Cricket Stadium, intended to disrupt a local Twenty20 league where Patwal is presently involved as a coach.

Patwal, the only Indian involved in the Shpageeza Cricket League, is the chief coach of Band-e-Amir Dragons, captained by none other than leg-spinner Rashid Khan, who made a sensational debut for Sunrisers Hyderabad in Indian Premier League (IPL) 2017.

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Asked about his decision to continue when names like Herschelle Gibbs, coach of Speenghar Tigers, opted to return following the attack in which three people were killed and five wounded, Patwal calmly said: “Now, it (terrorist attack) can happen anywhere in the world. It also helped that personalities like Dean Jones, who is a commentator, and Gus Logie (coach) decided to stay back.”

While the fear of bomb blasts and gun battles mark everyday life in war-ravaged Afghanistan, Patwal said that on the other side the passion for cricket among the masses has to be seen to be believed. “Cricket is a small community and we want to support Afghanistan cricket.”

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Mumbai cricket coach Umesh Patwal (R) with Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani.
Mumbai cricket coach Umesh Patwal (R) with Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani. ( HT Photo )

Patwal’s bond with Afghanistan cricket is deep. He was Afghanistan’s batting coach during the 2014 World Twenty20 and the 2014 Asia Cup in Bangladesh and has been coaching their star players for more than 10 years now. The likes of Mohammed Nabi and Samiullah Shenwari have travelled to Mumbai often, to train with him.

As chief coach, even the other foreigners in his team depended on his inputs about the security situation. How did he deal with it?

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“The morning after the blast, the president of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani, called us (participants) over for breakfast and himself briefed (us) about the security situation, assuring everyone of their safety. It helped calm the nerves of everyone,” said Patwal, who lives in Kandivali in Mumbai.

His family has been calm about his trips to Afghanistan, but this time they too panicked. “They calmed down when I told them about the assurance given by the president.”

Now, things are relatively better in Afghanistan and cricketers from countries like England, South Africa and West Indies have felt confident enough to play there. Patwal has dared to be in Kabul even when danger lurked around most streets.

READ | Cricket-mad Afghanistan fans flock to Shpageeza T20 League despite violence

“This is my third tour of Afghanistan. I first came here about seven years ago and stayed for a cricket camp for 25 days. That time I used to roam around the streets, walk to the Board office from my hotel, went sightseeing. This time we have to follow a strict security protocol and remain in our team hotel. I have been for dinners to the players’ homes, including captain, Asghar Stanikzai, and fellow coaches.”

Cricket-wise too it has been a good tournament for Patwal, having helped his team top the six-team league. Now, like in the IPL, being the top team, they will have two chances to qualify for the final. First they play the No.2 team, and if they lose, then they go into the eliminator against the winner of the play-off between the third and fourth placed teams.

First Published: Sep 20, 2017 12:08 IST

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