Afghanistan won the first and second Test matches it played in 2019, against Ireland and Bangladesh, respectively. But the third ended in disappointment as the West Indies outplayed the new entrant to five-day cricket in all departments.
“We need to make the domestic structure as competitive as possible. At the moment, it doesn’t look as good as it should be for a Test-playing nation and a full-member side. We are struggling a lot there,” says Rashid Khan, Afghanistan star leg-spinner.
In an interview, the 21-year-old speaks about his team’s performance, his ambitions and more...
Ever since attaining full-member status from the International Cricket Council, Afghanistan has only featured in four Tests, of which it has won two and lost two. As a new Test-playing nation, what areas do you think the team needs to work on?
We need to make the domestic structure as competitive as possible. At the moment, it doesn’t look as good as it should be for a Test-playing nation and a full-member side. We are struggling a lot there. We don’t have proper wickets or stadiums to play first-class cricket back home. That is something we need to improve in a bid to perform well on the big stage. When you play against teams like the West Indies, Australia, it needs a lot of work. It is not like you walk in and get success instantly. We have seen how Indian cricket has changed since the IPL (Indian Premier League) began, and we also need to focus more on domestic cricket. Once we have that kind of structure, our performance in Test cricket will improve.
Afghanistan will be playing a Test match against Australia next year. How challenging will that be?
It’s early stages for us in Tests. We will be playing Australia in its home next year. In such conditions, you won’t get favourable wickets. You will get wickets, which will hardly help the spinners, so we need to find a few fast bowlers who can bowl 130-plus. Once we have that, it will be easy for us to get wickets. They will definitely take responsibility and that’s what we are trying to get. In the series against Australia, you need to have pacers who can bowl at 130-plus!
The focus is more on Twenty20 Internationals and One-Day Internationals. Do you think that the Afghanistan Cricket Board needs to ensure that the team gets more opportunities in Test cricket?
There is no doubt about that. Practice makes man perfect, and the more you practice in Test cricket, the better it is. If we play teams like the West Indies again in a Test cricket in a short time, we will know what are the right things to do. That’s what we are hoping for. We need to play the longer format more. The more we play, the better we’ll get. Now, you play one Test a year, that kind of takes the momentum away. It’s tough for us to get more Tests against big teams, but we are trying to get as much as we can.
On the personal front, how challenging is it to shift across formats. How tough is it to bowl in Tests?
I enjoy bowling in Tests. I enjoy bowling in different variations. I am trying my best to develop. I have played only four Tests and have taken 23 wickets, which is good for me. There are three five-wicket hauls as well. I don’t need to do anything differently. In ODIs, T20s, you are thinking of doing a lot, but in Tests, you restrict yourself to bowling as per a specific plan – bowl at a good length area and wait for the batsman to make mistakes...
The next few months are going to be quite important for you. With the IPL beginning in March and the World T20 later in the year, what are the targets that you are setting for yourself?
The target is to keep improving and keep beating my previous performances. The challenge for me is to keep maintaining my form. I have done well in the past and that’s something I have to keep going. The IPL is coming, then there is the World T20 and also the Asia Cup – all three are in the T20 format. My only thing is to keep enjoying what I do – batting, bowling or fielding. That’s what keeps me going.
When you were picked by Sunrisers Hyderabad in the 2017 IPL auction, there were apprehensions about whether you will be able to handle the pressure. But over the last two years, you have not only handled the pressure well, but also have become one of the superstars of Afghanistan cricket. How has life changed in the last couple of years?
I have learned so many things over the last couple of years. Before the IPL, I was not as confident a bowler as I am right now. When you bowl to superstars in the IPL, you get a kind of confidence, and the comments from the coaches and the senior staff really help you. It happened to me as well. I learned from every game. Those cheers from the crowd gave me a lot of confidence and energy to better my game. The challenge of performing under pressure helped me adjust to international cricket. One thing I learned from the IPL was how to stay cool and calm. I was not like that two years ago, but now I am trying to be as cool as possible. That’s how I perform. That’s something which wasn’t there before. Earlier, there would be off moods if somebody hit me for a boundary or a six. That disappointment would show on my face and I didn’t enjoy those moments. In crunch situations, it is important to read the game, read the situation and conditions, and those things have helped me to find the weak zones in a batsman and then I bowl accordingly.
You have been through a lot in your personal life as well. Your father passed away last year during the Big Bash league, but even then you stayed back in Australia to fulfil your commitments. How challenging was it to keep everything aside and just focus on your game?
Since I lost my dad a year ago, it has been quite a challenge for me to come back to normal life. I still miss him, but you can’t do anything about it. There are certain things in life which are beyond your control. But let me admit that I have been a bit down after his death, and I am trying to pull myself up. It takes time. When you lose someone close to you, who has supported you a lot, that hurts. The most important part is that my family – my brothers, my mom – has been really supportive and they have given me lots of support and encouragement. I am trying to be my normal self as much as possible and come back strongly.
You are one of the very few players who have played in almost all the franchise leagues across the globe. How much has that helped you? Is there a fear of getting exposed?
In one way, it helps you a lot. You get used to bowling in different conditions, and then you realise what is the right line and length in various conditions. When I am bowling in Asia or in Big Bash, (English) county league or in the Caribbean Premier League, I need to bowl at different lengths in different countries. That really helps me. On the other hand, the body sometimes need rest and I am getting that. Best thing is I am not playing five Test matches or 10 ODIs – so, T20s don’t make you that tired. You are always ready to go. My type of bowling action is such that how much I play or bowl, if the wicket is not supporting and if the conditions are different, I will still struggle. I always believe in that and always want to enjoy my bowling.
You have played quite a bit of cricket in India because of the IPL. You also share a good rapport with various Indian cricketers. How much has playing in India helped you?
I have a very good equation with the guys like Yusuf Pathan, Virat Kohli, Bhuvi (Bhuvneshwar Kumar), Shikhar (Dhawan). We always enjoy each other’s company while playing together. We have dinners together and have fun. It’s always great to be here. Ever since my debut in the IPL, my cricket has changed. I have got a lot of experience from the coaching staff and the senior players and that has helped me to improve my game and has motivated me to work hard. It has helped me identify the areas that need to be worked on.
Coming back to Afghanistan cricket. Ahead of the 2019 ODI World Cup, the expectations were high, but the team failed to make an impact in the tournament. With the players and coaches going against each other, how tough was it to bring the team together? What’s the target now?
We have done quite well in the shorter format, especially in T20Is. We have won many series in the last two-three years. Once we have that in the mind that we did well, we need more improvement. Once we go to Australia, we need to figure out what areas we need to work on and what areas we will be struggling in. Before the World T20, we have the Asia Cup in mind. We are known for T20s. We need to make sure that we do well in all three departments against the big teams – like we did against the West Indies. Once we do that, we will be a complete team in the T20s. Once the players understand the role and where they stand, it gets much easier.
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