World Cup 2019: I know what we need, says Afghanistan Cricket Board chairman

Updated: Jun 24, 2019, 07:53 IST | Harit N Joshi

Afghanistan Cricket Board chairman Azizullah Fazli defends call to replace Asghar Afghan with Gulbadin Naib as captain; confident of bright future

World Cup 2019: I know what we need, says Afghanistan Cricket Board chairman
Afghanistan players celebrate an India wicket during a group stage match at The Ageas Bowl Southampton on Saturday. Pic/Getty Images

Harit N JoshiSouthampton: When the Gulbadin Naib-led Afghanistan team came agonisingly close to upsetting Virat Kohli's men here at the Ageas Bowl, it was a huge moment of pride for Afghanistan Cricket Board chairman Azizullah Fazli as he watched the proceedings closely from the ICC's hospitality box. Fazli opened up to mid-day on Afghanistan's roadmap, BCCI's role, controversies surrounding change in captain ahead of the World Cup, coach Phil Simmons threatening to spill the beans on Afghanistan preparations before sending out a stern message to those looking to create issues in the Afghanistan cricket team.

Excerpts:

Your views on Afghanistan not doing very well here...
This is just the second time that Afghanistan is participating in the World Cup. The first was in 2015. Proper cricket is being played in Afghanistan for the last 15 to 20 years only. I am confident in the next three years our cricket will prosper even further. Afghanistan does not have enough grounds and facilities like other countries, but despite those limitations, cricket is the No. 1 sport in our country. A lot of younger players are coming through. T20 cricketer is best received in Afghanistan. I am confident that in coming years, a lot of players will seriously take up 50-over and Test cricket.

Afghanistan is yet to win a match in this World Cup...
This World Cup has given us an opportunity to play against bigger teams. It will help us gain that experience. Our main focus is how to develop good domestic players for the bigger stage.
The reason why Afghanistan are not doing well in this World Cup is because we have never played in these conditions. All our matches are played in Asia. The conditions here in England are different and that is why our performance has been affected. Our team couldn't play the full 50 overs in the World Cup, except against England. Our efforts are to have matches in England, Australia and New Zealand so that we can get enough experience of playing in those conditions.

Azizullah Fazli
Azizullah Fazli

Would you like more strong countries like India to come and help develop Afghanistan cricket?
India has always supported us. Our home ground is India. All our players, from juniors to emerging players, are using facilities in India. This friendship is helping our cricket to grow. India's support to Afghanistan cricket is tremendous and we are very grateful to the BCCI for that.

What is the roadmap for Afghanistan cricket now, especially after getting Test status?
There is still some inexperience in our team with two to three guys really new [in the World Cup]. In other countries, cricketers come up step-by-step from U-19 to U-23, then 'A' team and then into the national team. We will do whatever it takes to improve the standard of our cricket. Our first job is to set up grounds and academies across the country. Luckily, we have a good ground in our capital city [Kabul] and one in Kandahar, which happened with the support of the Indian government. Once we create the facilities, talent will emerge. In 2002, we hardly played any cricket. But in a few years, we started playing in T20 World Cups and then in the 50-over World Cups. The [cricketing] history that nations like England or India have, Afghanistan does not. We are only a couple of decades old. I am hopeful, by next year Afghanistan will improve a lot… more than what we are seeing today. Afghanistan is closing the gap on the top Asian teams. The new ICC FTP will guarantee us 104 matches in the next four years which is a huge boost.

There was a some controversy surrounding the change in captaincy before the World Cup...
I have played domestic cricket for close to eight years in Afghanistan. I know what is good for my country's cricket. Because we changed the captain [Asghar Afghan to Gulbadin Naib], we got new ideas to come into the World Cup. I know very well what is required for our cricket and when. Our effort is to improve our cricket all the time. Yes, it is right that just before the World Cup [we changed our captain], but that player is still a part of the team. My effort was to give young talent an opportunity especially since they will play big teams like England, India and Australia. It is a major learning experience. They will not get this experience in domestic games. We respect what Asghar has done for our cricket when he was captain for four years.
In the 2015 World Cup, we beat Ireland. And in this World Cup, we beat Pakistan [in the warm-ups]. We are scoring more runs than what we did in 2015. Our cricket is improving steadily.

What made coach Simmons tweet about your chief selector?
I don't know what made the coach tweet that. It is entirely his decision to do that. His job is to focus on the team's performance and not focus on the politics of the Afghanistan Cricket Board. It is an internal matter of the Board. He has no business to interfere in that as a coach. We have requested all our coaches to just focus on their task of bettering team performance and develop our players. They shouldn't involve themselves in commenting over which selector is good or bad. If they don't like anything, they should resign and go. The culture in every team is very different from each other. The culture in Afghanistan is different from West Indies. What our chief selector [Dawlat Ahmadzai] spoke in the media was in Pashto, which he [Simmons] does not even understand. It has not been translated correctly [in English] and the tweet has also been deleted.

What's the way ahead to avoid such distractions?
I have requested all international players, current and present, to comment on Afghanistan cricket only after knowing our culture and exact facts of the matter. It saddens me that they are only talking about in-fighting and controversies about Afghanistan rather than highlighting the fact that in such a short time we are playing our second World Cup. We need everyone's support.

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