x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 25 November 2017

Sharjah Cricket Stadium 'first choice' to host Afghanistan's Test match debut

Afghanistan Cricket Board finalising itinerary as one of world's premier cricket venues picked to host Test also involving Zimbabwe.

Afghanistan will swap their limited-overs kit for Test ones when they face Zimbabwe at Sharjah this year. Altaf Qadri / AP Photo
Afghanistan will swap their limited-overs kit for Test ones when they face Zimbabwe at Sharjah this year. Altaf Qadri / AP Photo

Sharjah Cricket Stadium is set to host Afghanistan’s first Test match, when they face Zimbabwe this year.

The Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB) is finalising an itinerary for a series of matches with their Zimbabwean counterparts, which will see the Asian side become the 11th country to play Test cricket.

They, along with Ireland, were granted Full member status by the International Cricket Council in June, joining the select few countries who can play five-day Test matches.

For many years, Sharjah was the adopted home ground for Afghanistan, who are unable to play in their homeland due to security issues, as the side of former refugees-turned-cricketers made their march up the cricket rankings.

In the past two years they played home games Greater Noida, an 8,000-capacity ground in northern India.

However, they plan to return to Sharjah for this series, as they expect the weather to be more suitable during the window for when they hope to play.

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“We are in the final stage of discussions, it will be in the UAE, and if the tour goes ahead our first choice will be to play at Sharjah,” said Shafiq Stanikzai, the chief executive of the ACB.

“We are treating both UAE and India as our home venues, but in December-January Greater Noida is very foggy, and we will not be able to get a full day’s play in, so that is why we are shifting it to Sharjah.”

Afghanistan’s debut Test will be the latest historic feat to add to the list of records at the UAE’s oldest cricket venue.

Sharjah holds the record for the most one-day international matches, having hosted 226 since the first one in 1984.

There is hope Afghanistan can draw a big crowd for their first Test against Zimbabwe in Sharjah this year. Gareth Copley / Getty Images
There is hope Afghanistan can draw a big crowd for their first Test against Zimbabwe in Sharjah this year. Gareth Copley / Getty Images

The ground has also staged nine Test matches, all involving Pakistan. The five-day format has only ever attracted meagre attendances when compared to the limited-overs games at the venue.

Afghanistan, however, have proved a major draw for supporters at matches in the UAE to date.

One-day internationals against Pakistan and Australia were near-capacity crowds, while 16,000 saw the final of the Desert T20, a comparatively low-key Twenty20 tournament, in Dubai this year.

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Even Intercontinenal Cup matches, the multi-day format Afghanistan have played until now, have attracted supporters to their matches in Sharjah.

“Afghanistan have always pulled good crowds for matches in Sharjah,” said Mazhar Khan, the Sharjah Cricket Council administrator.

“A Test match will be a morning match, on a week day, but for sure we expect there will be a good crowd.”

The Afghans will be the first new Test side since Bangladesh started in the format in 2000. Bangladesh lost 21 matches in a row after their debut.

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Despite being without a head coach, after Lalchand Rajput left the role citing the fact he did not want to move to Kabul, Stanikzai expects the Afghans to be competitive in the five-day game far quicker than Bangladesh managed.

“I don’t think we will be taking long to compete with the other Test nations,” Stanikzai said. “Our strategic target is three years to become a competitive side.

"Within three years, we want to be in the top 10 in all three formats of the game. So I think our first Test victory will be very much sooner, rather than later.”