Afghanistan hopeful of bilateral ODIs in India
Afghanistan's attempts to gain more ODI fixtures leading into the September 2017 cut-off for 2019 World Cup qualification is likely to gather steam with a proposal in the works to secure annual bilateral matches against India and teams touring India beginning next year.
"If we sign the MOU which we sent to India, potentially Afghanistan Cricket Board will be in a better position than where we are right now, scheduling ODIs with India and scheduling ODIs with teams traveling to India on an annual basis," ACB chief executive Shafiq Stanikzai told ESPNcricinfo. "But still it will be bilateral ties. If a traveling team to India wants to play us in India, it is totally up to them."
Stanikzai said the draft had been presented to BCCI president Anurag Thakur in May and further discussions had during the ICC Annual Conference in Edinburgh. The BCCI officials have not yet commented on the proposal.
With Afghanistan shifting their home ground from Sharjah to Greater Noida, outside Delhi, Stanikzai said Afghanistan were well placed, geographically and rankings wise for fixtures against India and sides touring India in the same way Ireland had secured more ODIs against teams touring England.
"Since induction into the FTP, a larger challenge arose for Afghanistan," Stanikzai said. "A is arranging fixtures with Full Members and B is funding it and finding funds to accommodate your needs. The expectation of the Afghanistan people has grown immensely. Afghanistan Cricket Board is under tremendous amount of pressure by not having fixtures with Full Members. Comparatively, Ireland has obtained 14  fixtures with Full Members.
"The advantage Ireland has is geographical and teams traveling to England getting quality cricket against Ireland … but Afghanistan is a totally different story… For us, being in the FTP, yeah the window has opened but the challenges are much greater."
A strategic plan unveiled recently by the ACB set targets for Afghanistan to be a top-six ODI team by 2019 and a top-three team in both T20Is and ODIs by 2025. Stanikzai was confident it could be achieved, considering Afghanistan's rapid growth on and off the field. He, however, said the gains would be stunted, if there weren't enough fixtures against Full Members.
"The biggest challenge for us for the time being is the competition structure or the fixtures for Afghanistan to compete against Full Members," Stanikzai said. "That's somewhere we are lacking and somewhere we need the support from ICC, or maybe Full Member boards should realise they need to make this great game more globalised and take it into the Associate world.
"Afghanistan team is rapidly growing and the flow that Afghanistan national team currently is in is quite brilliant. If we don't get any fixtures - we don't have any confirmed fixtures after our Holland game for the rest of the year - so we are in danger of losing the flow, the momentum we have gained so far in the last nine to 12 months."
Stanikzai hoped that the problem would be fixed if the proposed 13-team ODI league was ratified. In particular, he believed a guaranteed set of 36 fixtures would open up big sponsorship opportunities. He said that tours like Afghanistan's current trip to both Scotland and Ireland eat up a large chunk of resources, which could be offset if Afghanistan had more teams to market and compete against.
"Afghanistan needs to be considered in a very exceptional case," Stanikzai said. "Obtaining UK visa cost me USD 80,000 for the team. We don't have a UK High Commission in Afghanistan. We need to travel to India and obtain visas. Going there, staying there, it took us 21 days to obtain UK visa to make this tour possible. Playing Scotland and Ireland is costing us more than USD 350,000.
"If we are to host a Full Member, we are able to cover 80-90% of the costs but if we are traveling to play any other Full Member and they are asking us to cover our own passage, it is an extra burden on us. So things need to balanced. Either we need to be in a regular competition, which this 13-member ODI league will help us quite drastically and prosper quite hugely, and the Test league is also another good prospect for us."
Peter Della Penna is ESPNcricinfo's USA correspondent. @PeterDellaPenna