Atif Mashal: Afghanistan will be a tough side in the World Cup

The Afghanistan Cricket Board chairman reveals the team will start preparing for next year’s mega event immediately after the qualifiers get over.

Atif Mashal was delighted with Afghanistan’s wondrous turnaround in the ICC Cricket World Cup Qualifiers.   -  AFP

The entire cricketing fraternity is busy congratulating Afghanistan for its remarkable turnaround in the qualifiers that led the side to a World Cup berth.

Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB) chairman Atif Mashal says the team’s real challenge will be in the World Cup and it will start preparing for it right after the qualifiers get over.

Speaking to Sportstar from Kabul on Saturday, Mashal spoke on a range of issues related to Afghanistan’s cricket and its development.

Excerpts

Q. How much does this World Cup qualification mean for Afghanistan?

A. We just got full membership. We all were hoping to make it to the World Cup, but unfortunately in the beginning, we lost all the chances. Luckily in the second round, we just got another life. Things improved from there and boys played really well. They came back, and that was amazing. They won all the three matches. Our plan was just to win all the three matches of Super Six. It didn’t matter who won or who lost, but we had to win all the matches. That worked for us. Things were in our favour in the Super Six, in contrast to the first round, where everything was against us. I appreciate our captain Asghar Stanikzai’s courage and patriotism. It is amazing by the way he came back and led from the front just three weeks after a surgery. He fought for the country. That was really something. In the first round, we really played poor cricket and we all were hoping for a turnaround. Last night was amazing for everyone back home.

Where lies the future for Afghanistan’s cricket?

Afghanistan’s cricket is an amazing story and is an exceptional case. We achieved everything. I am pretty sure that we will be performing extraordinary in the World Cup and we will shock many teams. Now, our main focus will be on the World Cup. The preparation will start right after this tournament. I believe in my guys and the talent we have — especially the bowling side — we will be a tough side in the World Cup for every country.

You have recently named Dehradun as the second home base in India. When will the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium in Dehradun host its first international match?

The series between Afghanistan and Bangladesh will be happening in Dehradun the first week of June, just before the Test against India. The Test match will begin in Bengaluru six days after the series against Bangladesh gets over.

We always had a home ground in India, at Greater Noida. Now, along with that Dehradun will be another home base. Sharjah will remain as it is.

What are the tours lined up for Afghanistan after its Test against India in Bengaluru in June?

Then we travel to Ireland for a series. We aren’t having any other series in India after the Test.

India skipper Virat Kohli has decided to skip the lone Test match against Afghanistan in June in a bid to play county cricket. Do you think his unavailability will take the sheen out of the match?

It is not up to us. We cannot suggest anything to the BCCI in this regard. It is entirely up to the BCCI. I don’t know about Virat’s unavailability officially yet. For me, it would not be a good thing to ask the Board to include or exclude any player. We will focus on our game.

In a chat with Sportstar in January, you had shown interest in getting Indian players for the Afghanistan Premier League. What’s the update on that?

The Afghanistan Premier League will be happening in October and the operations are already underway. The team auctions will be held in Dubai in April. We have Indian partners in the league. We have already discussed it with the BCCI. As a rule, they don’t allow their players for other leagues because of their domestic set-up. But we will be thinking of ex-players, and the retired players. For sure, we will have coaching staff from India.