x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

UAE bank on an inside job from Kabir against Afghanistan

Fast bowler Hassan is key for champions, but despite injuries, coach says morale is high and will play his former side without pressure.

Kabir Khan, centre, and his side are confident of taking on the champions, Afghanistan, following a first win over a more-established side in Kenya in July.
Kabir Khan, centre, and his side are confident of taking on the champions, Afghanistan, following a first win over a more-established side in Kenya in July.

Kabir Khan, the UAE coach, hopes a little inside knowledge could help his side go a long way in an intriguing, second-round ICC Intercontinental Cup clash with the champions Afghanistan.

The four-day game, a "home" tie for Afghanistan, begins today at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium. Both sides begin with impressive first-round wins; the UAE came from behind to beat Kenya in Nairobi at the end of July and Afghanistan swept aside Canada a few days later.

Kabir coached Afghanistan for two years until August last year. Though he oversaw much of the run to the title, he left in tense circumstances. But the time spent with them, he said, will help his side now.

"Obviously, if you spend two to three years with a team, you get to know them well.

"For any opposition, you can assess them by looking at videos of past games, speaking to other people. But having coached them, I can see inside them, I know how they will react under pressure, I know how they play in certain circumstances, what their strengths and weaknesses are so that will help."

Presently, however, Kabir might be at least as preoccupied with the injury situation of his own side. Four key players will not be available and one, Saqib Ali, could be a long-term absentee.

"Saqib might need surgery so we're looking at two to three months," Kabir said. "He's one of our main batsman and he's carried the order so him not being there is very unlucky for us."

The spinner Nasir Aziz - "he has a great doosra," according to Kabir - is out having fractured his elbow in the recent practice games against the touring side from the Caribbean. The veteran Mohammad Tauqir is also unavailable and the promising young middle-order bat, Ramveer Rai, has an injured shoulder.

Nevertheless, spirits remain in good order.

"We're pretty high on morale right now," Kabir said. "The Kenya win was a big result for us, it was our first win over them so actually quite a historic one. We still have good batting depth and our spinners are always a threat.

"I'm very pleased that we're developing a few fast bowlers as well and they helped us in Kenya. Ultimately, over a four-day game, you need 20 wickets to win no matter how many runs you score."

Whatever the depth of Kabir's knowledge, however, Afghanistan will provide considerably tougher opposition in the first four-day meeting between the two sides.

They are among the more attacking sides at this level and, in Hamid Hassan, have one of the division's best fast bowlers, a genuine game-changer.

They are also gaining international exposure swiftly: several members of the squad played in the recent domestic Twenty20 tournament in Pakistan for the Afghan Cheetahs side.

Kabir believes the UAE can take advantage of the relative impatience of their batting over a four-day game, as well as a less potent attack beyond Hassan. But Afghanistan carry a belief around them few sides can equal.

"We're feeling very positive and the boys are upbeat," said Aftab Habib, the coach.

"We've been playing some very positive cricket. We played against the West Indies and the guys put their hands up there. There is no pressure of being the champions. We just want to make sure we can show that we are capable of playing consistently good cricket."

The batting is not as prone to rashness as Kabir suggests. On the way to the title last year, they crossed 400 at least once in every match but two; each time they batted swiftly but over long periods.

"The problem is the same all over," Habib said. "There is so much 50 and 20-over cricket now that it naturally has an effect. Some batsmen play the same way across all formats. Ideally it would benefit Afghanistan to play more four-day games because if you are good enough in that, you can play any format."

Still it is the fast bowling that draws attention and remains the likelier route for victory, even on what is expected to be an unsupportive surface. Hamid took 10 wickets in the win over Canada, and now has a remarkable 62 wickets in just 10 first-class games.

"Hamid's been the backbone of our attack, our go-to guy but we've got other guys backing him up now like Dawlat [Zadran] and Izzatullah [Dawlatzai]," Habib said.

"All teams have that go-to guy and Hamid's been the main strength for us, but we need to make sure we don't burn him out."


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