As a former bowler, is it easier for you to coach bowlers?

Luckily for me I’ve played with some of the best batsmen in the world – Saeed Anwar, Ijaz Ahmed, Saleem Malik and Javed Miandad. Sitting down with them and listening to them talk about batting increases your knowledge tremendously. And this is what helps me when I communicate with the team and so I can help them in their batting. Every good coach shares with his team and I have brought top batsmen to speak with the players and given the chance I will bring more people to talk and provide my team with support.

Javed Miandad with Afghanistan’s opening bowler Hasti Gul

Are the players under any stress playing cricket in Afghanistan, in the sense of the lack of grounds and certain parties standing against the game of cricket etc?

Facilities-wise things are a bit difficult with newly-built grounds but the pitches are not ready but none of the Afghani people dislike cricket. They support it to the fullest and when we won the tournament a big Maulvi (Muslim Scholar), Maulana Khan, came in and proved that according to the Quran, cricket is OK to play. That was a religious certificate and it helped a lot. As Muslims we shouldn’t miss our prayers but since cricket has lunch and tea breaks there is time for the players to say their prayers and so people are not against it.

Afghanistan’s National Championships

What part does Pakistan play in helping Afghan cricket?

For the senior players, because the conditions in Afghanistan were not very good, a lot of families moved to Pakistan. Most of them have played their club cricket in Peshawar in Pakistan and they were brought up there and they learned from there. It was in Peshawar they developed their skills. So for Nabi and Hamid Hassan they were lucky to play their basics in Peshawar. For ICC Division 4 they spent time in Lahore preparing and also for Division 3 in the National Cricket Academy in Lahore. The facilities were excellent.

Do you have much interaction with the players with you living in Peshawar?

The best thing was that after the Division 4 some of the boys who don’t have houses in Peshawar have rented places to stay there. They’re coming on their own expenses and are practising as a unit which is very positive and good to see.

With your relationships with former players and their Academies and clinics, do you involve your players in them?

It is easy for them to be based in Peshawar. Rashid Latif has his academy there and has generously offered to help us. Most of our players are going there and the others are being given support by a lot of clubs. I have also approached different first-class departments and I’ve asked them to take two players from Afghanistan and take them around on a first-class trip and if they are good enough they should be given a chance to play.

Nabi and Hamid have played for Customs in Karachi, Peshawar will take two and now Rashid Latif has promised to take two players for his department and that is how we’re going to distribute our players to first class or Level 2 cricket.

Mohammad Nabi at ICC WCL Division 4

When you’re out of contact with the team is there anyone else who works with them to keep them fit?

Well, they are not professional cricketers and have to earn a living. We haven’t provided any monthly payments or incomes so they need to work at their jobs too. I’m not sure whether we can do that. Some of these boys have families and have to earn money to support them.

The boys are fantastic ambassadors for Afghanistan. Do you think there would be benefits if someone sponsors a trip to England, Ireland or even Scotland where you have contacts?

Things like this should be arranged. We have learnt how to speak, dress etc. just by looking at different cultures and so if we introduce them to a different culture they will certainly learn more about the world. At times the boys are reluctant to eat the local food because they want their ‘rotis’ so I just ask them to try it and when they did they loved it. When they go to different places they learn about different things.

After cricket what do these players have?

That is where the ICC and ACC should play a role. It all depends on how quickly the nation recovers from all that’s happened. As soon as it recovers the government will look at those things because they’ve got bigger problems than sports in their country. But after winning Division 4 and being on TV with the President of the country, Shahzada Masoud, Allah Dad Noori, myself and the captain ran a campaign through the media stating that the players need help. We need private people to come in and help and that is how four players have been sponsored with monthly wages and also to go on tours. Now we’re trying to involve more of the private sector and there are a lot of rich Afghanis who are keen to provide us with help. As a nation, they’re very compassionate but as a country there are still a lot of problems to be sorted out.

President Hamid Karzai with the 2007 ACC Twenty20 Cup

Do you think it will ever come to a point where, like Pakistan, banks and corporations will have cricket teams and players have a reasonably comfortable life?

There are people rich enough to run clubs and sponsor boys and so if the cricket culture develops there is a good enough chance that this could happen. I’ve heard that someone has built an academy and is sponsoring one or two of the national boys.

Does this conflict with the Federation?

The Federation is more than happy if anybody chips in. If we know two of our boys are happy then it reduces the burden on us. There are six scattered across academies and now we have to think of the rest.

How close is an Afghan player to the level of playing in the ICL or IPL or even first-class cricket in Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh?

Physically they are good enough to play cricket anywhere. They do need that extra mental toughness but it will only come when they are introduced to that level of cricket. Nabi and Hamid have played first-class cricket and so they are good enough to play anywhere in the world. The others have only played 30-over cricket all their life and if you ask them to play 90 overs in a day, it would be a huge ask. That is what I’m trying to do – to get them to play as much and get used to the big over games and play out 50 overs and see what it feels like to bat for one whole day. I would like to see them play first-class cricket anywhere and if any cricketing board is kind enough to support them in this cause, it would improve them tremendously.

How do you account for the support the Afghan team has received around the world?

I was the head coach of the UAE team and have travelled with the Pakistan team and seen that Afghanistan has got the kind of coverage any international team gets. Even CNN covers them and want to talk about Afghan cricket. They have a great story and they play good cricket.

Can Afghanistan get to the next World Cup?

They surely can, insha’Allah.

Related: Afghanistan Profile
ICC World Cricket League

Filed January 23, 2009