Afghan U-19 players sweat it out in ‘spicy’ Chennai

The Afghanistan U-19 cricketers are in Chennai for a 19-day training programme ahead of the World Cup qualifiers.

The Afghanistan Under-19 cricketers with their coach Dawlat Ahmadzai (left) during a practice session at SRMC in Porur, Chennai on Tuesday.   -  K. Pichumani

As the young cricketers sweated it out at the nets, one gentleman stood firm at one end, keeping a close eye on his wards.

The Afghanistan U-19 cricketers, who arrived in Chennai on Monday night for a 19-day training programme ahead of the World Cup qualifiers, are eager students of the game. After each and every shot, the batsmen walked up to the gentleman to know if the things were done right. The bowlers, however, didn't have have to do much. If he didn't like their style, the gentleman — Dawlat Ahmadzai — made it a point to rectify the errors.

Having played for Afghanistan at a time when Test status was a distant dream, Ahmadzai still cherishes the memories of playing against a star-studded Indian team in the World T20. That was in 2010, and Ahmadzai had sent Gautam Gambhir back to the pavilion. "Those are still cherished moments," he told Sportstar on Tuesday evening.

After pulling the plug on his cricketing sojourn, Ahmadzai has taken over as the country's U-19 team, and he feels the team has a lot of talented cricketers. "There are some really good players. I have seen a lot of changes in Afghanistan cricket. Be it from the administration or the public, things have improved immensely from our time," he said, keeping a close eye on the wards, who trained at the CSS-Whatmore Centre for Cricket at Sri Ramachandra Medical College (SRMC) campus.

While the country has attained a full-membership status from the ICC last week, it still has its home base in Greater Noida. The former cricketer is optimistic. "Things should improve. I'm sure it will," he said, adding that they are in Chennai since it has a similar weather like Singapore, where the qualifiers will be held. While he is happy with the way Afghanistan is playing at the international arena recently, Ahmadzai feels it would be wiser for Afghans to play their first Test against a low-key side like Zimbabwe. "As a coach I would want Afghanistan to play against Zimbabwe first. But if India agrees to play against us, it will be a learning experience," he said.

The players, who are in Chennai for the first time, find the conditions helpful. "It is a very good place and the conditions will certainly help us prepare well," said batting all-rounder Imran Mohammadi. The food in the city, however, is an issue for the Afghan players. "We are facing a bit of problem with the food. Everything is spicy here and the taste is also different. That is different from our usual diet," Mohammadi, who is a big fan of Yuvraj Singh, said. The players hope things would be better in a couple of days. "Our target is to play well and that's what we are doing," Mohammadi said.

Having attained the Test status, Afghanistan is now aiming to develop the infrastructure back home, and the young players believe that they can perform even better with a little more support. "Rashid Khan and Mohammad Nabi are our inspiration. They have shown what can be done," another player Parwiz Malikzai said.

After a hard day's training, the players hit the swimming pool even as the coach revealed next day's practice schedule. With just a few days in India, the Afghans are hoping to make the most of it. After all, before a tough tourney, every moment counts.