‘The BCCI has agreed to give us another ground’

Besides a facility at Greater Noida, the Afghanistan cricket team has been given another ground by the BCCI to train and play, the Afghanistan Cricket Board chairman Shukrullah Atif Mashal has confirmed. He speaks to Sportstar on Afghanistan’s impending Test debut, the country’s T20 league, and more.

Afghanistan’s future is bright, says Shukrullah Atif Mashal.   -  AP

It has been a journey to remember for Afghanistan cricket. Once just another associate member of the International Cricket Council, the country has now carved out a space in the game’s elite club by becoming a Test playing nation; it will soon make its debut in the longest format, against India.

Afghanistan’s future in cricket is bright, believes Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB) chairman, Shukrullah Atif Mashal. In New Delhi for an important meeting with the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) officials on Tuesday, Mashal spoke to Sportstar exclusively for a long and free-wheeling chat on Afghanistan’s historic Test debut, home ground and more.

Excerpts

Q: From being another associate nation, Afghanistan is set to play its first-ever Test in India. As the chairman of the Afghanistan Cricket Board, how do you see this long and eventful journey?

A: I am really delighted. We are playing our first Test in India. The relationship between the two countries goes back to centuries, and now, cricket has also added to this relationship. I am sure that cricket will play a greater role in strengthening relations. Not just in India and Afghanistan, cricket is a big sport in the entire Asian region. I hope the game will now be a tool for development in both the nations. We are thankful to the BCCI for hosting the first Test. The whole nation has appreciated the decision.

The one-off Test will be happening in June. But that time, its peak monsoon in India. Do you think that will take the sheen out of the contest?

Yes, weather is a factor. In India, it’s usually hot at that time of the year and our players are not too familiar with the climate. We are zeroing in on a venue that is less affected by monsoon. Like India, we, too, have a tight schedule at that time. But we have found an empty slot at that time and that’s where the series was [brought] in.

This year, the Afghanistan Premier League is also set to be launched. What is the strategy behind it?

Afghanistan Premier League is the sixth league in the world and we are extremely delighted about it. We are getting an Indian company as partners, and we will also soon hire a management company to handle the process. It will be happening in UAE in October, and for us, that will be a big thing. I hope it will be a competitive tournament like the [Pakistan Super League] — which is also held in the UAE.

Read: Afghan youth breaks Bradman's record

The BCCI has always helped out the ACB. Will you people be requesting the Indian Board to relax the rules a bit and allow the players for the Afghanistan Premier League?

Yes, we will be seeking BCCI’s support for the tournament. It could be in terms of allowing players to participate in the tournament or in any other form. We have had initial talks with the BCCI bosses and when we have a meeting on Tuesday evening, this will be one of the points of discussion.

Even as Afghanistan gets set for its Test debut, there is still a bit of doubt over its home base. Will it still be in UAE or will it be elsewhere?

We are investing on our own stadium in Kabul. The work should begin soon. The BCCI has agreed to give us another ground, which will help us in hosting the national and international games.

There were talks that the BCCI might lease out the stadiums in Lucknow or Dehradun. Is that the new ground you are talking about?

I can’t really name the venue at this stage. This calls for a discussion and a lot of things need to be put together. But yes, the venue at Greater Noida will remain. As far as UAE is concerned, it is too early to comment on anything.

What’s the road ahead for Afghanistan cricket?

Afghanistan cricket story is new. It’s just been 14 years since we got an ICC affiliation. I am pretty sure, it will keep growing. We have tremendous talent — the senior team, the U-19 team are doing really well. We are hoping to reach the U-19 World Cup final. The future is bright, and now, we have to come up with good academies and provide international-level infrastructure. We are working on that front.