Cricket Xtra: An Indian base gives Afghanistan cricket a needed boost

Ajit Vijaykumar 07:56 21/12/2015
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On the rise: Afghani cricket.

The Indian cricket board is rarely in the news for doing something good.

The Afghanistan Cricket Board, through the country’s President, made a request to India in April this year for a home base for its cricket team. The Sharjah Cricket Stadium had been playing host to the Afghanis since 2010 but they wanted to set up a ‘home’ base in India and benefit from the infrastructure in the subcontinent. And it didn’t take long for their wish to be granted.

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According to the agreement between the BCCI, the ACB and the Uttar Pradesh state government signed this month, Afghanistan will be able to utilise the facilities of the Shaheed Vijay Singh Pathik Sports Complex in Greater Noida, near the national capital of New Delhi, which has already hosted a domestic Ranji Trophy match. This means a lot for the development of Asian cricket.

The Afghanis first got a taste of cricket at refugee camps in Pakistan (no wonder that there a natural flair and fearlessness to their cricket). And since Afghanistan and India share a cultural link, it makes perfect sense for the former to look to improve its game in the familiar environs of the subcontinent.

The Afghanistan team will now be able to play in a thriving cricket hub with access to top-class facilities and coaching. Already, former India fast bowler Manoj Prabhakar has signed up as bowling coach and the sporting relationship can only grow from this point.

What is also of great significance is the setting up of the Asian Cricket Council’s first ever Centre of Excellence in the nearby hill station of Dharamsala. The venue, with its modern indoor and outdoor training facilities and equipment, should help budding and international cricketers hone their skills and prepare for tougher assignments.

More importantly, setting up base in India opens up a whole bunch of opportunities for Afghanistan players.

Once Afghani cricketers begin to play games in India, they will get an opportunity to interact with the Indian system. To start things off, a few domestic Ranji Trophy teams could play matches against them, even if in an unofficial capacity. It won’t be too far-fetched to expect the Indian board to assign a few ‘A’ team matches against Afghanistan.

From there, the truly talented Afghani cricketers should expect to catch the eye of some talent scouts who could take them all the way to the Indian Premier League.

Franchises are always on the lookout for good-value foreign talent and some recent Afghanistan players like Dawlat and Shapoor Zadran, Asghar Stanikzai and Mohammad Shahzad are very, very good. And even if a couple of them land a $10,000 contract, that’s a success story in itself.

However, there is very little chance of an Indian ‘Kolpak’ system coming into existence. While South African cricketers might be queuing up to head to England and ply their trade there, it is next to impossible for an Afghan cricketer to hope to play for India one day. The citizenship rules in India are extremely strict and I have not come across any instance of a foreign-born player representing the country.

Even so, the prospect of playing in a cricketing system that is robust should boost Afghanistan’s cricket exponentially. And once they begin to benefit from the facilities and coaching system, the IPL should be the next stop for them.

Get set for Amir

The Pakistan Cricket Board is open to the idea of giving disgraced fast bowler Mohammad Amir a shot at redemption. Coach Waqar Younis feels Amir has learnt his lesson and deserves a second chance. Twenty20 captain Shahid Afridi too has given his blessing to Amir’s possible return.

And with Amir asked to attend a national camp by the board, it seems the path is being cleared for the left-arm quick to regain his place in the national side following a spot-fixing ban.

Even though a star player like Mohammad Hafeez has said that he cannot imagine playing alongside a tainted cricketer like Amir, the fact is that the rest of the Pakistani establishment seems prepared to welcome Amir back into the fold.

One prominent dissenting voice won’t stop the Pakistan management. And if Amir does come back, as seems likely, be prepared for some very awkward moments on the field where opposition players, and even some in the Pakistan team, might refuse to acknowledge Amir’s feats. Because never before has a convicted match-fixer returned to the international arena.

I have maintained that proven match fixers don’t deserve a second chance and that their records should be expunged. But the stupendous talent of Amir has apparently won the hearts of many decision makers and we should all be prepared to see Amir in the green jersey any time now.

It will be explosive, even if more than a little unsavoury. 

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