Afghanistan’s fitness levels need to improve, says Board CEO

The team’s fitness “has not been up to the mark,” notes Shafiq Stanikzai.

“There is a huge question mark” on Afghanistan’s fitness levels, says Stanikzai.   -  PTI

On a dramatic second day, spectators would start cheering for every wicket India took. And sitting at the the president’s box at the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium on Friday afternoon, Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB) CEO, Shafiq Stanikzai, had to witness the proceedings.

Speaking to Sportstar, Stanikzai made it clear that the Board will take a tough stand on the fitness level of the team, which was an area of concern in its debut Test.

Excerpts…

If this one-off Test has been a learning curve for the players, what has it taught you as an administrator?

One thing that I learnt as an administrator is the fact that we can't compromise on the fitness of the players. We need to be precise on it and take very harsh decisions on players. It would not be justifiable to question the performance of the [batsmen] on this Test. It is their first Test, so they were tense. Playing against the world’s best team and bowlers, the [batsmen] will learn a lot. We have done well in the bowling department, which was expected. It is a learning curve for the likes of Rashid Khan, Mujeeb [Ur Rahman] and [Mohammad] Nabi as they played really well in the [Indian Premier League] and limited-overs cricket. They were thinking that they were best in the world. So, it has been a good lesson for them. They can rethink on how to do well in Test. There, however, is a huge question mark on the fitness level.

Teams like India have introduced Yo-Yo Test and have made sure that even star players go through the rigorous tests. Are you exploring a similar idea?

Exactly. There won’t be any compromise on the fitness. I am a bit upset on the team’s fitness level, to be honest. It has not been up to the mark. It is good that I have spent these two days watching these boys from close. They were in India for the last two months, though Ramadan month came in between. But even then, that’s something we need to think and find a solution.

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Even though Afghanistan has performed reasonably well, most of it has been in T20s. Now that it starts a new journey in Tests, how would the approach of ACB be?

We need to invest more on Test cricket, though it is a challenging task for us as a cricket board, in terms of finance to host Test matches. The teams we are travelling to play or have bilateral ties with, such as Zimbabwe or Ireland, are not quite happy hosting Test matches and it is a huge loss for them. But for us, if we want to develop our team, we need to invest more on Test cricket and on the longer format. We need to install a comprehensive development programme for our junior sides like U-23 and ‘A’ side. So, the investment need to be done on the longer format, which is a challenging part but yes, we need to convince ourselves that if we want to become good cricketing and good Test playing team by 2022, we need to invest more on that.

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Most of the cricket experts feel that more opportunities in Test cricket will better Afghanistan’s prospect in the format. How do you plan go about it?

We have our plan set till 2019 World Cup. The team is touring Ireland in August, we are playing Asia Cup and then a domestic T20 league. The preparation for World Cup and our next Test (against Ireland in February, 2019) is also in place. The good thing is that we have a larger pool of players. We have specific red-ball players, who the coaching staff are focusing on. After this match, we need to rethink and be on the same page to come up with proper plan on what are the areas to be ticked.

You talked about having larger pool of players. But then, Afghanistan’s core team still has cricketers who are 30 and above. When they bow out, how would the team deal with the transition phase?

If you look back a couple of years, we were in a transition phase. We have managed that phase quite well from seniors to juniors. If we look at our current side, I would say it is the youngest Test side. The average age should be around 24-25. We have Asghar (Stanikzai), Nabi and (Mohammad) Shahzad, who are above 30. So we bear in mind that senior and junior combination needs to be maintained in the team to work on the temperament and performance aspects of the side.