x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

World Cricket League: Afghanistan want to take it slowly

The have-a-go side want to change their mindset to last 50 overs while Scotland are keen to make winning a habit.

Afghanistan fans are never far away from coming out in full support of their national cricket team in the UAE. Jake Badger for The National
Afghanistan fans are never far away from coming out in full support of their national cricket team in the UAE. Jake Badger for The National

SHARJAH // Afghanistan's good news gang of cricketers will continue to do their best to give their compatriots something to cheer today when they face Scotland in another vital one-day international in the World Cricket League.

Positive publicity has never exactly abounded in relation to Afghanistan.

For example, on the morning of the first match between these two sides, the front page story of the international edition of The Times related to the country's continuing battle with corruption.

Happily, the country's indomitable cricketers appeared gloriously oblivious to the story of a multimillion dollar banking fraud by a former poker champion and his former bodyguard in Kabul. It is no wonder they are so dearly loved by their countrymen.

At each of their three matches against Scotland in the UAE so far this month they have been followed by hundreds of supporters, as well as a giant green banner bearing the legend: "Cricket = peace."

This team - once the Cinderella story of world sport - barely make the columns of the international press any more.

The fact these former refugees are beating everyone at cricket is no longer a story because it happens so regularly.

So the only pressure on them now is self-inflicted. Perpetuating their run of success and reaching the 50-over World Cup - which has been their eternal ambition - via this league will only feasibly be possible if they win all their remaining matches.

"We don't want to put them under that pressure - I want to take that pressure on myself, not burden them with it," said Kabir Khan, the Afghanistan coach.

"I don't want them to underperform because of that. Some players take that pressure positively, others don't.

"They know how important these games are, but we want them to enjoy it. Having a second chance [two more teams can qualify from a repechage competition at the start of next year] gives them relief as well."

The next chapter of Afghanistan's success story is likely to read differently to the first.

The have-a-go heroes who hit sixes first, and thought second, are now being encouraged to think differently.

"The long-term plan is to change [the mindset of the team] as we want to be able play for 50 overs," Kabir said.

"We have hitters who can smash the ball, but we need somebody who can consume 20 to 25 overs for us, not necessarily scoring too fast but picking up two or three per over.

"Once that is done, it is 75 per cent of our job - then the hitters can play their shots. We want stability in the middle order."

Scotland have underperformed so far in the series of two Twenty20 matches and one 50-over game so far in the UAE.

They will need to return to winning ways against Afghanistan at Sharjah Cricket Stadium today to keep their qualification campaign on track.

"It is a habit we have been trying to break, sometimes we get the batting right and don't get the bowling right, or get the bowling right and not the batting," said Gordon Drummond, Scotland's captain, after the Twenty20 series loss.

"If we can get both together in a perfect match, hopefully it will stand us in good stead."

pradley@thenational.ae

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