Afghanistan gears up for T20 duties ahead of big Test

The team takes on Bangladesh in a three-match series in Dehradun.

Afghanistan captain Asghar Stanikzai (left) and his Bangladesh counterpart Shakib Al Hasan with the Twenty20 trophy.   -  AFP

Neither Dehradun nor the State of Uttarakhand has much of a direct cricket connection. Uttarakhand doesn’t even have a recognised State association.

Naturally, people from the region take pride in establishing a thread between their State and the likes of M. S. Dhoni (whose parents hailed from there before moving to Ranchi and whose in-laws live in Dehradun), Manish Pandey and Rishabh Pant, both of whom spent their childhood there before moving to other regions for pursuing their cricket dream.

Over the last week, however, with two international sides training at the picturesque Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium on the outskirts of the city, cricket is finally on the horizon. When Rashid Khan, one of the success stories of the recently-concluded Indian Premier League, touched down on Saturday afternoon to join his team-mates for Afghanistan’s three-match Twenty20 International series against Bangladesh, he was mobbed at the airport. Minutes earlier, captains and coaches of both the teams addressed the media in a chaotic interaction on the eve of the series opener.

Balancing act

The frenzy surrounding a new international venue is not the sole distraction for the teams, especially Afghanistan. After all, Asghar Stanikzai’s boys are eagerly looking forward to facing India in the war-torn country’s maiden Test match from June 14. No wonder then that coach Phil Simmons has decided to field only five key players of the Test squad for the T20 series. The remaining Test squad, too, has been slogging it out simultaneously, with the coach being stretched to keep his wards focussed on both the series.

Read: Afghan Test specialists to train at Abhimanyu Cricket Academy in Dehradun

The next three weeks will give Afghanistan the first taste of dealing with weird scheduling of international fixtures.

Work to do

Bangladesh, on the other hand, will be hoping to improve on its mediocre record in Twenty20s. While Afghanistan has made steady progress, Bangladesh’s inconsistency has resulted in it languishing in the 10th place, two spots below Afghanistan, in the ICC rankings.

Shakib Al Hasan and Co. will therefore be desperate to beat a young Afghanistan squad and earn some vital ranking points.

The squads
  • Afghanistan: Asghar Stanikzai (c), Mohammad Shahzad, Najeebullah Tarakai, Usman Ghani, Najibullah Zadran, Samiullah Shinwari, Shafiqullah Shafaq, Darwish Rasooli, Mohammad Nabi, Gulbadin Naib, Karim Jannat, Rashid Khan, Sharafuddin Ashraf, Mujeeb ur Rahman, Shapoor Zadran, Aftab Alam.
  • Bangladesh: Shakib Al Hasan (c), Mahmudullah Riyad, Tamim Iqbal, Soumya Sarkar, Liton Das, Mushfiqur Rahim, Sabbir Rahman, Mosaddek Hossain, Ariful Haque, Mehedi Hasan, Nazmul Islam, Abu Hider, Rubel Hossain, Abu Jayed, Abul Hasan.

Captain talk
  • The ground looks very good. The pitch is a little slow and low but so many grounds in subcontinent are like that. We are used to it. - Shakib Al Hasan, Bangladesh captain.
  • Both the teams play passionately. It will be a tough series but an enjoyable one. If we win, we carry that confidence into the India Test. - Asghar Stanikzai, Afghanistan captain.

The fixtures
  • First T20: June 3
  • Second T20: June 5
  • Third T20: June 7.