If it was not for the difference in the colour of skin, thanks to his burly figure, Umesh Patwal can easily pass off as an Afghan. But the batting coach remains the only Indian in Afghanistan’s camp for its inaugural Test, against India to be played in Bengaluru from Thursday. The Mumbai-based coach is confident his wards will put up a good show.
“Since this is my third stint with the national team, I have been a witness to how the bunch has grown in terms of skill-sets, consistency and confidence. Now is a time to translate all these components from white-ball to red-ball cricket,” Patwal told Sportstar in Dehradun last week during Afghanistan's T20 series sweep against Bangladesh. “It’s going to be challenging but I have no doubt that Afghanistan will continue to surprise, even in the longer format. Afghanistan is the giant-killer in world cricket and it will live up to the tag even in Tests.”
Patwal, a shrewd cricketer on the Mumbai maidans, has been involved in the development of Afghanistan seniors like all-rounder Mohammad Nabi and captain Asghar Stanikzai. Ever since the duo had a training stint with Patwal in Mumbai in 2008, they keep coming down for his advice whenever he can. The natural progression was to be a member of the Afghanistan national team support staff. Having served as batting coach twice earlier, in 2014 and 2016, Patwal was delighted when he got a call soon after the ICC World Cup Qualifiers in March, where he worked with Nepal.
“Having worked with some of these boys for a decade, I know what it means for them to play Test cricket. I am extremely fortunate to be involved in this historic match,” Patwal said.
Patwal is no stranger to being the lone Indian in Afghan cricket. Last year, he was the chief coach of Band-e-Amir Dragons, a franchise that won the Shpageeza Cricket League, a T20 league in Kabul. Despite the tournament being marred with a bomb blast, Patwal stayed back and helped the Rashid Khan-led team to title.
During Afghanistan's preparatory camps in Greater Noida and Dehradun over the last couple of months, Patwal has been trying to stress on “playing balls” to Afghanistan batsmen.
“The key for competing in the match is to adapt to the challenges mentally. The batsmen, especially, will have to be patient. We have been working for the last few weeks on targets of playing certain number of balls. I hope the batsmen can execute the plans well,” he said.
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