Pakistan and Afghanistan mend ties

In an exclusive interview, Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB) chairman Atif Mashal says that it has agreed to bury the hatchet with Pakistan. This comes after the ACB chief’s meeting with Pakistan counterpart Najam Sethi.

The chiefs of Afghanistan Cricket Board Atif Mashal (right) and Pakistan Cricket Board Najam Sethi (left) discussed the future of their countries' cricket at the Asian Cricket Council meeting in Colombo.   -  AFP

Perhaps it’s not for nothing that cricket is considered a great leveller! A couple of months after the Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB) severed ties with Pakistan, following a bomb attack in Kabul, the ice seems to have melted!

In June as the Afghanistan capital was rocked by a blast, the country’s intelligence agency had blamed the attack on militants allegedly backed by Pakistan. While the attack drew worldwide criticism, the ACB had issued a statement that it could not agree to play against "a country where terrorists are housed and provided safe havens."

The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) refuted the allegations, calling it a political move. This led to a deadlock, with none of the bodies willing to relent.

But times, they are a changing.

During a meeting of the Asian Cricket Council (ACC) in Colombo last week, the heads of both the boards  discussed about the future, indicating that they have buried the hatchet.

Confirming the development to Sportstar, ACB chairman Atif Mashal admitted that his recent meeting with the new PCB chief, Najam Sethi, has yielded positive results. “We talked to Najam Sethi and discussed all the issues during our recent meeting in Sri Lanka. We agreed that it is important to develop good cricketing relations between the two countries,” Mashal said on Saturday.

Following the war of words, the PCB had refused to issue No Objection Certificate (NOC) to its players for the ACB’s franchisee-based Shpageeza League.

But Mashal claimed that the Pakistan Board has now agreed to allow its players for the league, which begins in Kabul from September 10. “The PCB will allow its players for the Afghanistan leagues. Besides friendship and improving relationships, this is also a good way of generating revenue for the players,” Mashal said.

While he confirmed that former Pakistan skipper Shahid Afridi will be part of the franchise-based league, Mashal added: “Only those Pakistani cricketers who have central contract might not be available, for international commitments. The rest will come. We have also got NOC for the West Indies and Bangladesh players.”

After attaining full member status a couple of months ago, the Afghanistan Board has reportedly drawn flak for implementing quite a few reforms. But the chairman insisted that it is the need of the hour.

“Afghanistan cricket is developing day by day. The enthusiasm, the commitment and the talent we see in Afghan players guarantee a bright future for Afghanistan cricket. As (its) administrative body, we at ACB introduce new structure to the board and will be bringing reforms,” Mashal said.

Not willing to talk much about the protest that has emerged following the reforms, the chairman added: “Now that we are a full-member Board, there should be some changes introduced. New structure should be brought in and there should be some reforms. That’s commitment from our side. As far as players are concerned, they have already promised a bright future for Afghanistan cricket.”

To ensure that things are on track, the Board plans to develop the domestic structure, and after parting ways with chief coach Lalchand Rajput, the ACB is now coming up with a system to invite fresh applications for the coach’s job.

But then, when would the Afghan players play their first Test?

“We are in contact with a few full-member nations. Hopefully, we will play our first Test match either late this year or early next year. We are closing in on an agreement, but it is not the right time to make a formal announcement,” Mashal said, making it clear that the side would have its Test venue in Sharjah, while the ODIs would be played in Greater Noida. “We will continue using both Greater Noida and Sharjah as our home grounds. Sharjah will be our venue for Tests, because of its huge crowd support,” Mashal pointed out.

With the number of camps in different age groups increasing, the Board plans to acquire another home venue. “Besides Sharjah and Greater Noida, we have to look if we can succeed in finding another place, because now there will be too many camps for our boys in various categories — senior team, A team, U-19. So, that would be required,” the chairman stated.

The full member status has given a war-torn country something to look forward to. And the Afghans can’t wait to don the whites!