New league, new opportunity for Afghan’s heroes

The Afghanistan Premier League is expected to be a wonderful opportunity for the budding talents from the war-ravaged country.

Players of Kabul Zwanan practise on the eve of the inaugural Afghanistan Premier League at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium on Thursday.   -  P.K. Ajith Kumar

Even the most ardent cricket fan might be stumped if asked to name the Twenty20 franchisees that Chris Gayle has played for. From Kolkata Knight Riders to Vancouver Knights, the dashing West Indies opener has appeared for over a dozen teams.

Add to that list, Balkh Giants. It is one of the five teams that will feature in the Afghanistan Premier League that kicks off the Sharjah Cricket Stadium on Friday.

Gayle would indeed be one of the biggest attractions in the league. Other major stars, from outside Afghanistan, include Brendon McCullum, Shahid Afridi, Andre Russell, Colin Munro, Ravi Bopara, Ben Cutting and Luke Ronchi.

But the focus would almost be as much on the home talents (Sharjah used to be Afghanistan’s home ground until the move to Noida two years ago). And we are not just talking about the likes of Rashid Khan, Mujeeb Ur Rahman and Mohammad Nabi. With the rapid strides that Afghanistan has been making in international cricket, there is a lot of interest on its players from across the world.

READ: Venkatesh Prasad to coach in Afghanistan Premier League

The APL is expected to be a wonderful opportunity for the budding talents from the war-ravaged country. “We are hopeful that some new stars will emerge from this league, like we have seen in the IPL right from the beginning,” Nawroz Mangal, Afghanistan’s captain-turned-chief-selector, told Sportstar. “Everyone in Afghanistan has been asking me about the APL. They are all looking forward to it eagerly.”

Among them is Afsar Zazai, who kept the wicket for Afghanistan in its inaugural Test against India at Bengaluru last June. “This is a great chance for all of us,” says the man who will play for Kabul Zwanan. “It would be fabulous to play along with some talented, vastly experienced cricketers. I hope to learn a few things about keeping from my teammate Ronchi.”

The international cricketers too are only keen to be part of what promises to be an intense domestic league for Afghanistan. “I have decided to play in the APL because it is an exciting opportunity,” says Bopara, who will turn out for Balkh. “And I would only be happy to be part of the development of Afghan cricket, which has impressed me a lot.”

The league, which also includes Kandahar Knights, Nangarhar Leopards and Paktia Panthers, ends on October 21. With DSPORT beaming the matches live, the organisers are hopeful of a bright start for the newest T20 league.

(The writer is in Sharjah at the invitation of DSPORT)