Asia Cup 2022: Afghanistan need more matches against top teams: Ahmadzai

They started well but it’s in the Super Four stage that the Afghans lost their steam, having failed to win any of their three matches against Sri Lanka, Pakistan and India



Afghanistan players stand for their national anthem before the start of the match against India. — AP
Afghanistan players stand for their national anthem before the start of the match against India. — AP
by

Rituraj Borkakoty

Published: Fri 9 Sep 2022, 9:04 PM

Last updated: Fri 9 Sep 2022, 9:06 PM

Afghanistan can make a serious bid for knockout rounds in big tournaments if they get more opportunities to play against the top guns, the team’s assistant coach Raees Ahmadzai said.

The Mohammad Nabi-led team made a stunning start to their DP World Asia Cup campaign in the UAE when they thrashed five-time champions Sri Lanka by eight wickets in the opening game.

Inspired by their world-class spinners, the Afghans restricted Sri Lanka, Pakistan’s opponents in Sunday’s final, to 105 all out.

Afghanistan followed the thumping win in Group B with another brilliant performance in the next game, knocking Bangladesh out of the tournament with a comprehensive seven-wicket victory.

But it’s in the Super Four stage that the Afghans lost their steam, having failed to win any of their three matches against Sri Lanka, Pakistan and India.

While Sri Lanka needed to dig deep into their reserves to overcome the Afghan challenge in the first Super Four game, Nabi’s team almost pulled off their biggest win in history when they had Pakistan gasping for breath in a low-scoring thriller.

But number 10 Naseem Shah’s heroic six-hitting display in the last over in Pakistan’s nail-biting one-wicket victory at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium broke the Afghan spirit as they went on to lose tamely to India in their final match of the tournament on Thursday.

Ahmadzai believes the young team will learn to win close matches if they get to play the big teams more regularly.

"It's important for a team like us to play against top-level teams," Ahmadzai told reporters after Afghanistan’s 101-run defeat to India in Dubai on Thursday.

"It's not easy. I can't remember when we last played India or Pakistan. Playing one or two matches against them in top-level tournaments is not enough. It will help if we play them more often.”

Rising stars

Rashid Khan, 24, and Mujeeb Ur Rahman, 21, have already established themselves as world-class spinners in white-ball cricket.

Now with the emergence of 21-year-old left-arm pacer Fazalhaq Farooqi and the exciting 20-year-old wicketkeeper-batsman Fazalhaq Farooqi, it seems Afghanistan have enough young talent to build a solid team for the future.

But their players need more exposure at the international level in order to learn how to deal with pressure in close matches.

"If we get more chances against big teams, our players will learn to control their emotions, control pressure and learn from the experience. I feel we deserve that,” Ahmadzai said.

“The way we started in the Asia Cup, giving a tough time to the other teams, I think we did well. Our win over Sri Lanka was a one-sided win, we beat Bangladesh. But we have to improve on the basics. Our players realise where we should be more focused so that we can finish the way we started."

Despite the heartbreak, the humdinger against Pakistan was a great learning experience for Afghanistan ahead of the T20 World Cup (October 16-November 13) in Australia.

"I think we did very well, especially our young boys. We learnt a lot from our first two wins. Then the way we defended 130 against Pakistan was a good learning process for our players ahead of the World Cup,” the assistant coach said.

"I'm happy to see our youngsters doing a great job. These are things we will carry forward."


More news from Sports