Sharjah: Raees Khan Ahmadzai, one of the few constants in Afghanistan cricket, feels expectations are high from the team after their stirring shows in recent times — including the Asia Cup.
A former captain of the national team (between 2005 to 2008), Raees now doubles up as one of the assistants with West Indies’ head coach Phil Simmons while also working as a chief selector for the Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB).
During last month’s six-nation Asia Cup held in the UAE, Afghanistan was a huge draw and defeated higher-ranked teams Sri Lanka (by 91 runs) and Bangladesh (136 runs) to qualify at the top of Group B for the super-four stage.
However, they couldn’t progress further after losing to Pakistan and Bangladesh before splitting points with India for a tie. However, the gifted Rashid Khan went on to stay tied as the highest wicket-taker with India’s Kuldeep Yadav with 10 wickets each.
“There was no one in Afghanistan who was not following the Asia Cup. Right from our President [Ashraf Gani] to the smallest kid on the street, everyone had expectations from the national team. And before we came for this tournament we knew we had the confidence to defeat countries like Bangladesh and Sri Lanka,” Raees told Gulf News during a chat at the team hotel.
“Now after our performances in the Asia Cup, the challenges are even bigger for us, and this is because the expectations of the people have risen. For sure, we are under pressure, but it is a challenge that we will gladly accept. The Afghan team can beat any other side, if we just get everything right,” he added.
“A lot of hard work is being put in to get things right at all levels of cricket in Afghanistan,” Raees disclosed.
“I feel we are doing the right things at the right time and it is only with patience that we will achieve all our goals. We have some top spinners like Rashid [Khan] and Mujeeb [Ur Rahman]. All we need now is to have some runs on the board so that our bowlers can defend totals,” he said.
Raees also felt that the team as a whole need to pay attention to the minor details as well.
“We need to know how to rotate the strike. We need to be sharper in taking singles and twos and we need to work more on our fitness. I believe we are aware that as a team we are on par with the rest of the sides but from now on, we need to also realise that it is a matter of working out the finer details also,” Raees admitted.
“When I went for the under-16 trials to Jalalabad, there were almost 800 kids for the trials and in Khost and Kabul, we had more than 500 turning up. Cricket has made deep inroads into Afghanistan. It is somewhat of a huge craze sweeping the country. That assures us of our future. What we need for now is staying consistent and beating the big teams,” he added.