Rajput: Afghanistan will be ready for Test cricket in 2-3 years

Afghanistan’s head coach expressed delight at the impending participation of Mohammad Nabi and Rashid Khan in the upcoming Indian Premier League.

Lalchand Rajput (second from left) was happy with the constant improvement by Afghanistan’s players.   -  R. V. Moorthy

Afghanistan will be ready to play Test cricket in “two or three” years, its chief coach Lalchand Rajput has said.

“Playing Test cricket has to be the goal. I feel there is still another two or three years before the team is fully ready for the five-day format. A lot depends on the [International Cricket Council] as well,” he told PTI.

Spinner Rashid Khan and all-rounder Mohammad Nabi were bought by Sunrisers Hyderabad in the Indian Premier League (IPL) auction in February, a first for Afghanistan cricket. Rajput expressed delight at the development. “These two guys playing in IPL is not just huge for them but for the entire country. It is hugely motivating for their national team-mates as well,” Rajput said.

“They are both world-class players who will learn a lot by sharing the dressing room with some of the biggest names in world cricket. Going forward, I think the number [of Afghanistan players participating in the IPL] will only grow,” the former India opener said.

Afghanistan has come a long way ever since making its World Twenty20 debut in 2010; it qualified to play its World Cup, in the 2015 edition in Australia. It recently hammered Ireland across the three formats (One-Day Internationals, Twenty20 Internationals, and First-Class) in a series of contests played at its adopted home ground in Greater Noida.

Rajput, who was manager of the Indian team when it won the inaugural World Twenty20 in 2007, has been Afghanistan’s head coach since June last year and considers the job his toughest challenge yet. “That is exactly the reason why I took it up. It is a life-changing experience for me as well, to work with guys who have risen after a lot of struggle and are committed to improve with every game.”

Rajput had replaced former Pakistan batsman Inzamam-Ul-Haq as the coach. The 55-year-old knows that he has big shoes to fill but feels the journey has been satisfying so far. “After taking over I realised that I had to work a lot on the mind and fitness aspect. The batsmen were always on fifth gear and used to throw their wicket away after getting a good start. They don’t do that any more.

“They value their wicket a lot more now. Fitness-wise also the boys have improved a lot and that is showing in their game.”

World class players

He has high hopes from the team and has no hesitation in calling some of the players world-class, including the IPL debutants. “I feel Rashid Khan is the one of the best spinners in the world at the moment. He is always accurate, bowls a great googly and knows how to vary his line and length. The young boy has a bright future ahead of him. Nabi is another one who can fit into any international side along with top-order batsman Rahmat Shah.”

After being appointed coach, Rajput had gone to Kabul for a day and soon realised that national team players enjoy the status of “demi gods” despite not playing in Afghanistan due to security concerns. Living literally out of a suitcase, Rajput has developed a special bond with the Bollywood-loving bunch.

“They know a lot more about our movies than I do,” he says in a lighter vein. “After the IPL, we have the West Indies tour coming up which is exciting. The more they play against Test playing nations, the better they get. That is the only way Afghanistan can improve further. In fact, we have spoken to the [Board of Control for Cricket in India] as well for a series. The Indian board has always been there for Afghanistan and I am confident the two teams will be playing each other soon.”

“I keep telling the players that in India, we don’t rate someone highly unless he plays Tests. So the players know the value of getting there,” says Rajput, who is with the team on a two-year contract.