Shafiq Stanikzai: We want to play first Test against India in India

In the international arena, we have made our presence felt and that is something we would like to repeat in the longer format of the game as well, says the ACB CEO.

The Afghanistan Cricket Board CEO Shafiq Stanikzai (right) with the ACB chairman Atif Mashal.   -  Courtesy: Afghanistan Cricket Board/Shafiq Stanikzai

That December afternoon in New Delhi’s Constitution Club was quite significant for Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB). As the temperatures dipped in the national capital, the ACB had just gone into an agreement with the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and the Greater Noida Industrial Development Authority to use Greater Noida as its home base for international fixtures.

After the meeting got over, a young gentleman walked up to the members of the media and requested them to support Afghan cricket. The soft-spoken, young gentleman was then the newly-appointed Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of ACB — Shafiq Stanikzai.

That was in 2015. And, over the years, he made it a point to ensure that Afghanistan cricket was well covered.

The hard work paid off earlier this week, when the International Cricket Council (ICC) granted a full-membership status to Afghanistan and Ireland. As the much-awaited full-membership and Test status came their way, the Afghanistan cricket fans hit the streets to celebrate their moment of glory.

Late on Saturday night, hours after reaching Kabul — following the ICC meeting — the ACB CEO Stanikzai spoke exclusively to Sportstar on what this meant for Afghan cricket. This is also his first interview with an Indian publication ever since Afghanistan attained a full membership.

Excerpts…

Congratulations on becoming a full-member of the ICC. What does this mean to Afghanistan cricket?

It is a historic achievement for the nation. As the news of Afghanistan attaining full membership broke out, the entire country was busy celebrating it. It was, after all, a much needed news and we all were waiting for it for long.

For the last few days people across the country are cherishing this moment. Be it the president, the cabinet ministers, the CEOs, everyone celebrated this moment.

The full membership and the Test status definitely open the window of opportunities for the game in Afghanistan. This journey will definitely be more challenging, but our target will be to work harder and sustain here. With so much support, we are confident of making a mark in the Test arena as well.

With full-membership comes Test status. As a Test-playing nation now, what would be the target?

Since cricket started in Afghanistan, we have showed consistent improvement. In the international arena, we have made our presence felt and that is something we would like to repeat in the longer format of the game as well.

Now that you have taken a giant leap, will the pressure increase?

Our records suggest that we have done very well in the limited-overs game. The challenge, of course, will be different in the five-day format. Test cricket will be tougher, and there is always room for improvement. As we begin a new chapter in our cricket, we are confident of doing well. If you are asking about our performances on field, I would say, in Test cricket, the focus would be on improving our batting. That is perhaps one area that needs a different approach in a five-day format. Otherwise, our bowling — especially spin bowling — is quite good and settled. So, once we start discussing about the next step, these are the few things we would certainly keep in mind.

But there is still a bit of confusion over your Test venue, because the ICC still hasn’t given Test status to Greater Noida. In that case, is the ACB thinking of any alternatives?

I would like to thank the BCCI for helping us so much. It is because of its effort that we could get Greater Noida as our home venue, and now that we work towards our Test debut, we would require the BCCI’s support in turning the Greater Noida stadium as a Test venue as well. If we (ACB, BCCI and the Greater Noida Industrial Development Authority) collectively appeal to the ICC to grant a Test status to the Greater Noida stadium, I think our plea would be heard, and a nod would be given to turn the stadium into a Test centre. We are confident. We want to play our first Test against India and in India, so we will appeal to the ICC to give Greater Noida the green light. But as of now, we have other things to address as well.

Has anything been conveyed to you about a possible date for Afghanistan’s Test debut?

The ICC will look after the international scheduling structure and take a call on when we would play our first Test match. That’s for them to decide. As far as we are concerned, our primary task is to develop the cricketing structure across all the formats, and improve the competition structure further. As a full-member, these are the few things we must develop, and we are working towards that.

Are you talking about developing the infrastructure?

In Afghanistan, our domestic first-class cricket is good. Now, it is our duty to improve the quality further. Overall development of cricket in the country is definitely required now. The ACB will leave no stone unturned to ensure that there is world-class facility available for the cricketers in the country. This is the start of a new journey, and we aim to stay at the elite stage with pride. In the past, we have made our presence felt in the international arena, and things should only grow from here.

In the recent past, the relationships with some of the Boards have gone a bit awry for ACB. Now as full member, how do you plan to get things straight?

We share a very healthy relationship with all the full-members of the ICC. They have always supported our cause, and now, as a full-member, we would try to strengthen the relationship further.

Are you mulling any changes as far as Afghanistan’s international cricket structure is concerned? Could there be any changes in approach?

There will certainly be a few changes. It would not be right to say now, what they would be. We have just attained the full-membership and there is a lot that needs to be done. We will be holding a few meetings and then only we will be in a position to reveal the changes. So far, we are extremely delighted to have achieved this success and hope things remain bright for us.

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