Afghanistan chief selector: Captaincy change ‘in the best interest of the team’

The responsibilities of captaincy had been taken away from Asghar Afghan keeping the long-term future of the Afghanistan team in mind, according to Dawlat Khan Ahmadzai.

Asghar Afghan was the Afghanistan captain for all three formats before the recent change.   -  AFP

The decision to shift the responsibilities of captaincy away from Asghar Afghan ahead of the Cricket World Cup 2019 was taken keeping the long-term future of the Afghanistan team in mind, chief selector Dawlat Khan Ahmadzai has said.

The three-member selection panel led by Ahmadzai announced three captains for three formats last month. It was a move that led to unrest in the team; star players Rashid Khan and Mohammad Nabi openly voiced their concerns over the timing of the decision.

“We realised that we can’t win the World Cup at this moment under Asghar’s captaincy or anyone else who would have been in charge. We made the decision not just thinking about this World Cup, we are thinking about the 2023 edition. We will be getting 10 matches with full members and we feel it will provide perfect training for the new captain (Gulbadin Naib),” Ahmadzai said in response to a PTI query.

What was the need to announce the decision with less than two months to go for the World Cup? Ahmadzai replied, “Like you are expressing your concern to me, there were concerns expressed by the players (Rashid and Nabi) and the entire issue was handled professionally. They felt it was not the right time to change captaincy but later understood that it was in the best interest of the team.”

Naib, the new captain for One-Day Internationals, will now lead the team at the World Cup. “The team members, including Rashid and Nabi, are now happy for Gulbadin. He is not a new man. He has been playing for 17 years and has captaincy experience at the first-class and U-19 level,” Ahmadzai said.

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He added: “Asghar himself has said that Gulbadin is like his younger brother who believes that Asghar’s experience will come in handy in the World Cup. They are a united front now. Changes happen. Sri Lanka also changed their captain.”

Afghanistan CEO Asadullah Khan, who was sitting alongside the chief selector, chipped in, saying: “M. S. Dhoni also plays under Virat Kohli.”

Rashid ‘not ready for all formats’

Why was leg-spinner Rashid Khan — Afghanistan’s biggest star currently — not chosen to lead the team at the World Cup? Ahmadzai said: “Rashid is not ready for all formats but he is ready for T20. He is too busy playing (all around the world).”

The aim for Afghanistan, which is currently preparing for the event in South Africa, will be to reach the semifinals, according to Ahmadzai. “There was no Rashid or Mujeeb in 2015 so this time we are aiming for a semifinal berth. With the team composition we have, we can definitely surprise a few teams,” he said.

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Ahmadzai didn’t think Afghanistan was too dependent on its star spinners. “Hamid Hasan is back into the fast bowling attack and that is a big boost. He has been a great fast bowler for Afghanistan and will lead the pace attack alongside Dawlat Zadran,” Ahmadzai said.

Ahmadzai expressed satisfaction at the team’s preparations. “Two things are required for the team to perform well: selection and preparation. We have been working on that for the past six months. We have played in Scotland and South Africa, we feel the preparation is complete. We have a well-balanced team. Rashid has done well in county cricket, Mujeeb [Ur Rahman] can use the new ball and we have potent fast bowlers who can exploit English conditions,” he said.

Commenting on the health of the sport in Afghanistan, Ahmadzai said cricket is growing rapidly and that “there are around five lakh cricketers in the country and most of them want to be Rashid.”

“There is also a lot of work going at the first-class level. Shah is specifically working on building the Test team,” he said.