Shahid Afridi Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

Sharjah: Former Pakistan captain Shahid Afridi has given his unconditional backing for the growth of cricket in Afghanistan in future.

Now well past his prime at 38 years, the explosive all-rounder was one of the four iconic players during the inaugural Afghanistan Premier League (APL) that concluded with the final at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium on Sunday.

Chasing a challenging 193 for victory against the Kabul Zwanan, Afridi’s Paktia Panthers caved in for a paltry 90 all out in 14.1 overs. A former world record holder for the fastest ODI century (in 37 deliveries), Afridi was the highest-scorer for his side with 27 runs in the second semi-final late on Saturday.

“This tournament has been a great case for the cause of cricket in Afghanistan but they now need to continue their progression from here. The ACB [Afghanistan Cricket Board] has to take up a fatherly role and look after these talented youngsters to secure the future of the sport in Afghanistan. Perhaps, they should pay more attention to the marketing of the event so that they can get more crowds to come and watch. They can concentrate on these aspects for the next edition, this is the way forward for the Afghanistan cricket,” Afridi told media at the post-match conference late on Saturday.

“The ACB needs to keep on growing the cricket facilities in Afghanistan. I don’t know all their names, but there are some top-class youngsters coming through. They need to be kept motivated while teaching them to handle pressure of playing at the highest stage,” he added.

Hailing from the Afridi tribe of Pashtuns, the all-rounder — who retired from international cricket earlier this year — was in awe of the talent around him during the past three weeks of the APL. “This tournament has been one of the best experiences for me as I had the opportunity to share the dressing rooms with some of the most talented youngsters in Afghanistan. I believe some of these young cricketers are already in a position to play for their national team,” he related.

“Much of the credit has to go to the ACB as they have done well in putting this competition together. I thank the board for having me as one of the icon players. This has been a great opportunity, especially for the youngsters to showcase their talent and get noticed,” Afridi said.

“In the past, I was not lucky to be in Afghanistan as I had to cancel a trip there due to personal reasons. But in the future, I want to support the growth of Afghan cricket and I will be willing to even go and play in Afghanistan if the need arises,” he added.