Sharjah: Kabir Khan, the Afghanistan national cricket team coach, has played a pivotal role in moulding his team into a formidable one that can challenge the best teams in the world.
The former Pakistan pacer-turned-coach was responsible for Afghanistan gaining official one-day status in 2009, helping them qualify for the Twenty20 World Cup in West Indies and securing a third-place finish in the World Cricket League division one.
Though he took up an assignment to coach the UAE national team in 2010, he returned to coach Afghanistan this year. The Afghan players see him as not merely their coach, but also as their brother and an inspiring figure helping them achieve their dreams.
Khan spoke at length about his experience with Afghanistan team and how different they are from the other teams he has coached.
Gulf News (GN): What’s it like returning to coach Afghanistan after a break and how are the players responding?
Kabir Khan (KK): So far, so good. Everything is going according to plan and the boys are responding to what I am doing. Ever since I took over as coach, we have been faced with a lot of competition. After I joined there was the World Cup Twenty20 qualifying rounds and then the World Cup Under-19 qualifying rounds and then the World Cup Under-19 itself. So I have been very busy with the boys. They want to work hard and put up a very good show. They love to challenge big teams like Australia.
GN: How much of a boost is it to play against Australia?
KK: It is a big boost from many perspectives. The youngsters who will be watching this game back home will be inspired. The cricket culture in the country will also change after this match and I am sure a lot more youngsters will take up the game. Already the one-day match we played against Pakistan has brought about a huge change to our cricket culture. This will be another huge boost.
GN: So you think this match can bring in a lot of positives irrespective of the result?
KK: Yes it will bring about change because whatever negative factors that are happening in Afghanistan can be wiped out only through such positive act of playing against big teams. The young generation will have something to aspire to and matches like these are a huge morale boost.
GN: Having been the coach of the UAE team, what do you find as the main difference between Afghanistan and the UAE?
KK: The difference is that Afghanistan players are full-time players whereas UAE players are part-time players. Talent wise, UAE players are equally as good as Afghanistan players. The problem is that UAE players have to earn their living working for different organisations and only after their day jobs can they go and play.
GN: What is the toughest part of handling the Afghanistan team?
KK: Culturally it is very difficult. They are very tough-minded. It is not easy to make them accept a lot of things and you have to make them believe in it to accept any changes. They always challenge and do not accept defeats. They want to win against any team in the world. The players, the officials and even the president of the country are very keen to win, and hence it is not an easy situation.
GN: So how do you go about it? What is the approach you take in dealing with the team?
KK: You have to draw a fine line and make sure they work accordingly. I don’t want them to stop dreaming, especially in terms of wanting to win against teams like Pakistan, Australia and India. I tell them that it is good to dream, but to realise a dream you have to really work hard for it. I make them believe that just because you dream you cannot achieve success the day after tomorrow. I make them understand that for any dream they want to achieve, they have to put in a huge effort.
GN: Afghans are known to love their food and for having healthy appetites. How do you go about to maintain the squad’s fitness in light of this?
KK: It is true that they love their food, but religious wise they are very good Muslims. They can fast when they want and they can diet when it is needed. For example, they did not break their fast despite having to play and we all respect it. Sharjah has given us the facility to practice at any time of the day we want and I am greatly thankful to Abdul Rahman Bukhatir and all the Sharjah staff members like Mazhar Khan and Ali Anwar Jafri for making sure that we feel at home here and for providing us with the best of facilities. Otherwise we would have been in big trouble with regard to our preparations. What we did during Ramadan was to come in for practice by only 10pm and went back to hotel by only 3am almost every day. Hats off to my boys, they never once complained.
GN: So what is your goal as the Afghanistan team coach?
KK: My aim is always to take Afghanistan to the next level. They have played in the T20 World Cup and again qualified for the T20 World Cup. They have performed well against Pakistan and we want to get better and better. If we can show that there is huge difference in our performance against Pakistan five months ago and against Australia, that will be a huge achievement. If in the coming T20 World Cup we can put up a better show than last time, I will be happy.
GN: How happy are you with the budding talent in Afghanistan and the performance of the Under-19 team in the World Cup?
KK: I am very happy with the way the Under-19 team played in the Asia Cup as they beat a Test-playing nation like Bangladesh. They were very close to winning many World Cup matches, especially against New Zealand. If they could have beaten New Zealand, they would have clinched a place among the top eight. So things are improving and people are getting to see progress.