Rapid learners Afghanistan take another giant stride with Test win over Bangladesh

Ashish Peter 10/09/2019
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The victorious Afghanistan side. Image - @ACBofficial/Twitter.

Another chapter in the incredible rise of Afghanistan cricket was added on Monday at Chittagong when Rashid Khan had Soumya Sarkar caught at short-leg to spark wild jubilation.

That wicket in the fading light wrapped up a 224-run run win for Afghanistan in the one-off clash against Bangladesh, meaning they have now won two of the three Tests they have featured in since gaining full ICC membership last year.

The fact that it took Bangladesh nearly nine years and 60 Tests to record their second win in the format puts Afghanistan’s meteoric rise into context. That no other side in history apart from Australia has managed to win two out of their first three Tests further vindicates their phenomenal achievement.

Throughout their sensational rise through the ranks in international cricket, Afghanistan have proven that they are quick learners and that very same trait is now shining in their foray into five-day cricket.

Their introduction to Test cricket was as harsh as they come with the debutants being crushed by an innings and 262 runs by India at Bengaluru last year. That comprehensive defeat seemingly exposed the massive gulf that existed between them and the top international sides in the world, but victories over Ireland and now Bangladesh since shows how quickly they have found their footing in red-ball cricket.

It is hard to believe that Afghanistan were languishing in Division Five of the ICC World Cricket League just over a decade ago and they have taken barely any time at all to establish themselves as a top-10 side in all three formats of the international game.

Their remarkable journey has seen them qualify for every T20 World Cup since 2010 while their appearance in England for the 2019 World Cup was their second-ever in the 50-over format. The most heartwarming aspect of their success is that it has come in the face of massive adversity amidst a tumultuous period in the country’s history.

A large part of the current squad including skipper Rashid honed their cricket skills in refugee camps of Peshawar, Pakistan in the backdrop of never-ending conflicts and war back home in Afghanistan. Amidst the devastation brought on by war and terror, the cricket team’s rise to global stardom over the last decade has been a cause of immense pride for the citizens of Afghanistan.

While their rise has been electric, it hasn’t been all perfect as their most recent World Cup campaign in England just showed. The entire campaign was fraught with controversies with a last-minute captaincy change just weeks before the start of the tournament triggering a sequence of events that would see them lose all nine matches to finish last.

But just when the wheels were starting to come off in Afghanistan’s incredible story, they have once again sent a timely reminder as to why they are here to stay at the international level. The team management and board has swiftly moved on from that disastrous World Cup campaign with 20-year-old Rashid being appointed as skipper across all three formats.

Hot-weather training camps in Abu Dhabi and then Chittagong before the one-off Test against Bangladesh has paid dividends for Afghanistan, with their extensive levels of preparation coming to the fore in the colossal 224-run win. In comparison, Bangladesh were caught napping with their lackadaisical preparations for the Test and paid the ultimate price in front of their home fans.

Rashid – the youngest-ever captain in Test history – seems like the perfect candidate to usher in the next chapter of Afghanistan’s glorious rise with an equally youthful looking squad at his disposal. While his own match-winning all-round display was a big positive to take for Afghanistan from their win, there were other youngsters who made significant contributions as well.

The 17-year-old Ibrahim Zadran impressed with the bat with a fine 87 in the second innings while 20-year-old Zahir Khan looked promising with his leg-spin. With 19-year-old Qais Ahmed and mystery spinner Mujeeb ur Rahman also in the mix, there is the making of a strong young core for the Afghanistan Test outfit which could become the team’s backbone over the next decade.

Their phenomenal rise at the senior level has been mirrored at the junior level as well with the U19 outfit making its mark in various tournaments. With such positive signs from all quarters, the future is indeed looking bright for Afghanistan cricket and they will be eyeing another giant scalp in the form of West Indies when they host the Caribbean side in a one-off Test later this year.

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Mohammad Nabi believes Rashid Khan is the right man to lead a young Afghanistan side

Waseem Ahmed 10/09/2019
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Rashid Khan had a flying start to his captaincy tenure.

Veteran all-rounder Mohammad Nabi has lauded Rashid Khan’s aggressive captaincy following Afghanistan’s historic Test win over Bangladesh at Chattogram.

Rashid and his men beat the hosts by 224 runs in the one-off Test to record their second win in the format in just three appearances.

Nabi, who made his final Test appearance for Afghanistan in the clash, praised Rashid’s leadership in the big win over Bangladesh while blaming a late captaincy change as the reason behind the team’s dismal display in the 2019 World Cup.

Having appointed Gulbadin Naib as the ODI skipper just weeks before the start of the tournament, Afghanistan eventually went on to finish bottom of the table after losing all nine games in England.

“It is all about team combination,” Nabi said after Bangladesh’s win at Chattogram.

“In the World Cup, the board members changed the old captain and that’s why the combination wasn’t that good. With Rashid as captain, Asghar (Afghan) and I support him a lot. He prepared for the role too.

“If you change the captain before the World Cup, how can you prepare the team? He (Naib) never captained in his life, how can he lead a team in the World Cup? That’s why it was tough, and the boys didn’t perform in the World Cup. We got close against India, Pakistan and West Indies but now it has totally changed. We are giving chances to the youngsters; three debuted in the Test and there will be many debuts in the T20s too.”

Following the team’s dismal World Cup campaign in England, the Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB) opted for another captaincy change with Rashid being appointed as skipper across all three international formats.

The star leg-spinner led from the front in his first Test as Afghanistan skipper with a match-haul of 11 wickets along with a vital half-century with the bat in the first-innings. Nabi believes that the 20-year-old spinner is the right man to lead a youthful Afghanistan side going forward.

“We are focusing on the youngsters,” Nabi said.

“We have put a young captain in-charge, and he is aggressive. He is the No. 1 bowler in the world as well. That’s why we all support the captain.

“Our chairman and CEO, our board members support the team.”

Having emerged victorious in the one-off Test, Afghanistan will now turn their attentions to the T20 tri-series also involving hosts Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. Rashid and his men are due to take on Zimbabwe at Dhaka in the tri-series opener on September 14.

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Former England skippers Andrew Strauss and Geoffrey Boycott given knighthoods

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Andrew Strauss is set to be knighted.

Former England captains Andrew Strauss and Geoffrey Boycott have each been given knighthoods in former Prime Minister Theresa May’s resignation honours list.

The two opening batsmen were the only sporting names featured in a list largely consisting of political figures – a nod to Mrs May’s lifelong love of cricket and her admiration for Boycott in particular.

Strauss played exactly 100 Tests for England between 2004 and 2012, scoring over 7,000 runs at an average of 40.91 and captaining his country to two Ashes series wins and the number one spot in the ICC world rankings.

Andy Flower, who as England coach from 2009 to 2014 shared in Strauss’s successes, led the tributes to his former captain.

Flower told the PA news agency: “I cannot think of a man more worthy of the honour.

“As a player he was tough and resilient, as a captain he balanced a firm hand and moral compass with a compassion and empathy that meant he was loved and respected in the dressing room by his players and the staff. As a father and husband he acted with a level of courage and integrity that is an example to us all.

“We are very proud of him.”

England and Wales Cricket Board chief executive Tom Harrison said in a statement released to PA: “We couldn’t be more delighted that Sir Andrew Strauss joins other giants within the sport who have been knighted for their achievements.

“Playing 255 times for England, including exactly 100 Test matches, he captained his country for 50 of those Tests, leading England to number one in the world rankings and winning the 2009-10 Ashes in Australia – the first England captain to do so in over 20 years.

“He finished his playing career in 2012, having scored over 17,000 first-class runs for Middlesex and England.

“In May 2015, Andrew was invited to join the ECB as director, England cricket, to shape the future strategy of the men’s international teams – in part to enable an environment that would see England as live contenders for the World Cup in 2019, an aim they so thrillingly delivered on just a few short months ago.

“It was with the same class and courage that he and his family set up the Ruth Strauss Foundation to raise money and awareness just a few months after losing (wife) Ruth to a rare form of cancer. The foundation raised over £400,000 in August as Lord’s turned red on day two of the Ashes Test against Australia.

“Aside from his achievements on and off the pitch, Andrew is widely regarded as an exceptional person in our game and this wonderful accolade will be celebrated around the cricketing world.

“Our heartfelt congratulations also go to Sir Geoffrey Boycott – honoured for his long career and passionate dedication to the sport.”

Middlesex chairman Mike O’Farrell added: “What wonderful recognition for a person who has done so much for cricket at so many levels and who in the face of personal tragedy continues to focus on doing good for others through the Ruth Strauss Foundation.

“Middlesex Cricket is really proud of ‘Straussy’ – one of our own.”

Boycott’s 108 Tests from 1964 to 1982 brought him 8,114 runs at 47.72 – the first man to reach 8,000 in Tests for England – while he averaged 56,83 for his first-class career with 151 centuries and over 48,000 runs in all. He captained England in four Tests in 1978, deputising for the injured Mike Brearley.

At a news conference last November, Mrs May was asked in the form of a cricketing analogy about the number of ministerial resignations, or “wickets”, over her handling of Brexit.

“One of my cricket heroes was always Geoffrey Boycott, and what do you know about Geoffrey Boycott?” she said. “He stuck to it, and he got the runs in the end.”

She had previously praised his dogged style during an appearance on the BBC’s Test Match Special programme.

Boycott was forced to apologise in 2017 after joking that he would have to “black up” to receive a knighthood, pointing out that the honour had been bestowed on West Indian cricketers including Sir Viv Richards, Sir Garfield Sobers and Sir Curtly Ambrose.

He was also given a three-month suspended prison sentence in 1998 after being convicted of assault against former girlfriend Margaret Moore, while in 2002 he was diagnosed with throat cancer but made a full recovery and returned to the commentary box.

Provided by Press Association Sports

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