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By Saj Sadiq
Peshawar-born Mohammad Kabir Khan represented the Pakistan national team on 14 occasions spread over four Tests and 10 One-Day Internationals (ODIs). A lively left arm-seamer, Kabir struggled to break into a Pakistan side that already had the likes of Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis. His best figures of three for 26 came in his final Test match against Zimbabwe in Bulawayo in 1995, and he ended his career with a bowling average of 41.11 in Tests and a respectable 25.25 in ODIs. He had a far better First-Class record by playing for Habib Bank Limited (HBL), retiring in 2005 with 437 wickets from 114 matches at an excellent average of 21.18.
A level 3 qualified coach, Kabir took over as coach of HBL following his retirement in 2005, before taking up the head coach role of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) national cricket team. The experience he gained resulted in his appointment as coach of the Afghanistan cricket team in October 2008. He took Afghanistan from Division Five of the International Cricket Council’s (ICC) World Cricket League (WCL) all the way through to their attainment of ODI status in 2009. Afghanistan went on to win the 2010 ICC World Twenty20 (T20) Qualifier which allowed them to historically qualify for the 2010 ICC World T20.
Despite leaving the role of coaching the team briefly in 2010, Kabir was given a three-year contract to coach Afghanistan in 2011 and following their most recent success of qualifying for the 2015 World Cup, he spoke to PakPassion about the success of the Afghanistan cricket team, their goals for the future, how cricket in Afghanistan can be developed and their recent defeat to Pakistan.
PakPassion (PP): What has been the most satisfying moment of your association with Afghanistan cricket?
Kabir Khan (KK): My most satisfying moments are whenever the team wins. We have lost very few games in the last 18 months and the team is playing in harmony and with unity. Winning is not important, it’s about playing as a team. They are reaching their goals and working towards their targets. We have qualified for two World T20s before (in 2010 and 2012) and now we have qualified for the upcoming World T20 in 2014 and the World Cup in 2015. We are also currently the holders of the Intercontinental Cup, so our success is very satisfying.
Cricket in Afghanistan consists mainly of 25-over cricket. This is what our players have played their whole lives. Now, they are playing four-day cricket and winning matches. People thought it was a fluke, but we proved them wrong, and we have proved that Afghanistan is capable of competing at a higher level.
PP: Do you think Afghanistan is ready for Test Cricket?
KK: No, not yet because we have no formal infrastructure and no First-Class structure. If we don’t play 10-12 First-Class games in a year, we will not be able to compete with the Test nations. Afghans are natural born winners and have a winning mentality in their souls and losing too much doesn’t help! We don’t want to be seen like Bangladesh or Zimbabwe when they first came onto the scene.
PP: What improvements have you seen in the Afghanistan team during your current tenure? What was missing before?
KK: The players needed polishing and in my first term as coach these things were being taken care-off. Then I left and they were left without a coach for several months and it meant they were unable to improve. The particular areas that needed improvements were the fielding and batting against spin as well as playing against quality fast bowlers.
Playing under pressure is a huge target and goal for us to work upon. This has been practiced against the associate teams and we are now looking on improving this aspect against higher class opposition.
PP: How has the team’s success been recognised by the public in Afghanistan?
KK: The players get huge recognition. As most people are aware, there isn’t much good news in Afghanistan, so when the cricket team wins, people come out in their droves and they treat it like a festival. It’s really treated like any major sporting event every time the team has success.
The team is hugely followed and cricket is played everywhere. This love of cricket at home means, it’s as big as India vs Pakistan matches and it has that level of following. What we have done is to introduce cricket in the national curriculum in schools. This means that kids are starting to play this great game at a very young age.
PP: What support have you had from Pakistan and its players in the development of the Afghanistan cricket team?
KK: Recently, we signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB). Right from the start, they have supported Afghanistan cricket and have continued to do so over the last few years. The PCB allowed our boys to play Grade two cricket and then we also went and toured Pakistan recently. However, a proper MOU was signed 12 months ago and the PCB have agreed to help our cricket all the way from the grass-roots level.
Over the next ten years, the obvious goal is not to go back, and at the very least to be as successful as we are now. As a minimum, we don’t wish to take cricket backwards in Afghanistan. The ICC is also investing in the development of Afghanistan cricket and the funds need to be invested in the infrastructure and in educating coaches. . We have two international stadiums and we are working to improve on that part as well.
PP: Who are the Afghanistan players you feel can go on to become international superstars?
KK: Mohammad Nabi, the present skipper, is certainly one. He averages 36 from 27 ODIs with five half centuries. Mohammad Shahzad is another who already has three centuries. Shapoor Zadran, the tall left arm quick also has great potential, and in the Under-19 setup we have Najibullah Zadran who is making great strides. So, the future is bright for Afghanistan cricket.
PP: We have seen smaller teams have an impact in the past in major tournaments, what impact do you think Afghanistan will have in the 2015 World Cup and what are your targets?
KK: We have qualified for prior World Cups. Now, the love affair is over and it’s time for hard work and to topple a superior team. That is the impact we are striving to achieve and attain.
Before that, our first target is to get through to the second round of the ICC World T20. To do so, means we have to beat the hosts in their own back-yard. That’s our goal. After that as I said, in the 50 overs arena we want to beat at least one top team and see where that takes us going forward.
PP: How disappointing was it to lose to Ireland recently in the World T20 qualifiers in the UAE?
KK: It was disappointing. However, in the same way, it was not our best day at the office and Ireland were the better team and played special cricket on the day. They deserved their victory.
PP: Tell us about the level of domestic cricket in Afghanistan?
KK: Presently, we play club cricket and there are 32 provinces in the country. Naturally, we play inter-provincial games. Those provinces then become 5 regions. Then we have inter-region matches. We play 50-over and 20-over matches, as well as three-day games. These three-day games do not have First- Class status at present.
PP: Would you like to see more of the leading cricket nations playing matches against Afghanistan?
KK: This is the only way we can improve. If the ICC wants us to get better, we need support from our cricketing neighbours by playing in more high profile fixtures. This will allow us to compete better under pressure. Going forward, the cure for Afghanistan is to play more often against the top teams.
PP: Has the thought of one-day coaching the Pakistan team ever crossed your mind and if the opportunity arose would you be interested in the role?
KK: It’s my nation and my country. I am always available if Pakistan cricket ever needs me and my services.
PP: What are your thoughts on Afghanistan’ recent tight defeat to Pakistan?
KK: Against Pakistan, our boys played brave and attacking cricket. They struggled during their batting, but then came back against a former T20 world champion. Our 138 target was competitive and taking the match to the last ball was just like winning to me. The players will be better for the experience and take great positives from their efforts.
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