x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Afghans pledge to continue ascent

The team management is already thinking of having two or three grounds in the next few years and apply for Test membership.

MS Dhoni, Yuvraj Singh and Dale Steyn - you have been warned. "These players are hungry to show to the world what they are capable of," said Kabir Khan, the coach of Afghanistan, after his side earned a place in the World Twenty20 against the luminaries of India and South Africa in Dubai, at the weekend. Surely, all the little men say that before they go up against the best? Perhaps. But there is a tangible sense that it means a little bit more coming from this group of players.

"Because of what is going on back at home, this is the only positive media coverage they can bring for Afghanistan," added Kabir. "They are showing that cricket can play a major role in the peace of Afghanistan." Much like Kabir, there are no bounds to the ambitions of Taj Malik Khan, the side's assistant coach, and why should there be? He is one of a clutch of people who have been involved with the Afghan side since they first started playing international matches in 2001.

Back then, the players were mostly reliant on handouts for things as basic as kit. Emirates airline played their part, freighting out the first bulk batch of equipment from MCC free of charge, via Dubai, to Kabul. When, a decade on, Afghan supporters staged an impromptu pitch invasion as World Twenty20 qualification was sealed, Taj was the one member of the team who stayed out there, assisting the outnumbered security staff with clearing the field.

Then he was pressed into action as an emergency voice-for-hire, translating the ICC's plea for calm into Pashtu across the Tannoy. Unsurprisingly, Taj deemed Saturday "the greatest moment of my life", but he clearly has plans to better it. Ireland, the conquered finalists at Dubai Sports City, are already pushing to be admitted into the 10-nation group that play Test matches. However, they cannot now claim in all certainty that they are the best of the rest, outside of cricket's current elite.

The Afghans preceded two wins over the Irish in the qualifier with a four-day win over them in the Intercontinental Cup. "It is not a fluke," said Kabir. "It is not by chance. Whatever we have achieved, we quite deserve it." If Taj had his way, Afghanistan would be next in the queue for a Test berth. "God willing, we will have three or four grounds in the next few years, and then get full membership of the ICC," he said.

For obvious reasons, Taj's dream is fanciful at the moment. The ICC might not need to commission too many security task forces or feasibility studies to come down against the Afghan claim to Test status. One Test nation, Afghanistan's neighbours, Pakistan, have already been forced to make alternative arrangements for staging home matches because of security. They will play Tests in England this summer, having sized up the prospect of playing in the USA, yet they still regard the UAE as their home-from-home.

Judging by the crowds that watched Afghanistan's success in Dubai, they would be advised to do the same. Even the likely crowds of 20,000-plus at this weekend's Twenty20 matches between England and Pakistan, they will be unlikely to better the atmosphere created by the 6,000 Afghans who attended the final on Saturday. It was a point not wasted on either of the side's coaches. Kabir said: "We haven't got a home ground so far.

"ICC are supporting us, they are based here, so why not? We can play our home games here because there is a big crowd here." @Email:pradley@thenational.ae