Afghanistan v Sri Lanka, Asia Cup, Mirpur March 3, 2014

Playing top teams key to Afghanistan's growth - coach

Karthik Krishnaswamy in Mirpur

For a while on Monday, you thought Afghanistan had a chance. Their second-wicket pair was looking comfortable at the crease, and when Asghar Stanikzai rose to his toes two times in three overs to cut balls of minimal width to the point boundary, you remembered what he'd helped his team achieve two days earlier.

Realistically, you probably knew they didn't stand a chance, chasing 254 against a quality Sri Lanka attack on a pitch that wasn't too easy to bat on. In the end, they didn't even get close. But you'd set your expectations higher than you would from most Associate teams, and this definitely meant something. Especially when this was only their fifth ODI against a Test side.

Kabir Khan, Afghanistan's coach, suggested after the match that his team had it in them to beat sides like Sri Lanka if given regular exposure against top teams.

"Well, it's the inexperience," Kabir said. "The quality bowling, world-class bowling we were playing against, the world-class fielding we were playing against... The [Sri Lanka] players, on average, would have played more than 100 matches per person, on average, and that's the difference, because they are used to this pressure, they are used to difficult conditions, and they are world class as well.

"If you compare, [Ajantha] Mendis and the fast-bowling attack, they play everywhere and they know what the name of the game is. I personally think that, I'm not saying we would have won the game, but it's the experience. If we play more matches, under pressure, against good bowling, again and again, I think results after 10 matches will be different."

Afghanistan have won one of the five matches they've played against Test teams, and given Pakistan a massive scare in another. They've taken 35 wickets in those five matches, and they've never conceded 300, despite playing twice against Pakistan and once each against Australia and Sri Lanka. But they've failed to reach 200 in three of those matches. Clearly, bowling is their strong suit. It's so strong, according to Kabir, that there isn't much to choose between Afghanistan's attack and the other attacks at the Asia Cup.

"In this tournament, if you see, our bowling has done a lot better than other's bowling," he said. "When Sri Lanka is playing against India or Pakistan, each of the Test teams when they are playing each other, the minimum score is 270-plus, and our team is restricting each and every team below 255 or 250 and that sort of total. That shows that the bowling is doing really well, and the fielding is helping a bit.

"It's the batting that we want to develop more, and it will come only with experience and playing more 50-over games. We are good at T20s, and you can see that. The boys like to play strokes. The boys don't control their innings with singles and twos, they like to hit boundaries. But developing an innings and playing 50 overs, it will take time and it will only come with time and experience."

It's interesting to compare Afghanistan now to where Ireland were after their fifth match against Test-playing sides. By that time, they were already in the Super Eights stage of the 2007 World Cup. They had beaten Pakistan, famously, and tied with Zimbabwe, but they had also scored 263 against England a year before that, in their first full ODI.

That Ireland team, though, included players like Trent Johnston and Andre Botha, who had started their cricket careers in other lands, and players such as Niall O'Brien and Eoin Morgan who had already represented English counties.

Afghanistan's players seem to have as much raw talent - perhaps more, in the case of their bowlers - than that Ireland side, but they have had far less exposure to first-class cricket outside of the Intercontinental Cup. According to Kabir, it was good for Afghanistan to play four-day games against other Associates, but they weren't playing enough matches for it to make a massive difference.

"Well, Intercontinental Cup helps, but if you look at it, you play eight four-day matches in two years, so it's not enough," he said. "If you look at it that way, it's very good for us, that we are playing four-day cricket, but if you play eight matches in two years or two-and-a-half years, you play three or four matches per year. In countries like Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan or India, you play 14 to 15 matches or maybe 16 first-class matches in one season, within four or five months. So that's the difference."

In the end, Mendis proved too difficult to handle for Afghanistan, and he ran through the lower order to ensure they fell well short of their objective of lasting 50 overs.

"Boys coped okay against Lasith [Malinga], I think, but not against Mendis," Kabir said. "He has just got too many varieties, it's very difficult for first-timers to read them. I think Indian team, when he came in, was struggling against him, but slowly they read him and they started playing against him, and when you start playing against a player a lot, then you start understanding him as well. The problem is that this is our sixth year since we got ODI status and this is the first time we are playing an ODI against Sri Lanka."

Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on March 4, 2014, 23:02 GMT

    Afghans have impressed in a big way.I thought it will be a waste of time watching matches played with them.Sorry guys I am wrong.I was stunned by the difficulty SL batsman faced scoring runs against your quality bowlers.It is nice to see the Asian block is getting stronger.Well played and you are big time winners in this tournament.Hope you will get more matches to play in coming times as your coach said.

  • Dummy4 on March 4, 2014, 17:51 GMT

    ICC should decide to give more matches against test nations one side will fortify Afghanistan on the other side will invest surely with massive returns also we hope from India to allow Afghanistan players in the biggest event IPL

  • Dummy4 on March 4, 2014, 17:14 GMT

    give them more chances at bigger stages and i am pretty sure they will garb it and perform well. they can surpass Bangladesh and will be a threat to all of us. pretty happy with the progress they have achieved yet. well come to new arena. cheers from Sri Lanka

  • Yasitha on March 4, 2014, 8:48 GMT

    i agree with kabhir "bowling has done a lot better than other's bowling".but the secret is these batsmans are never face them before.but thumbs up for your performance and GOOD LUCK for the matches!!!!!!!

  • Dummy4 on March 4, 2014, 7:20 GMT

    Afghanistan will only get better and better if top teams keep playing with them, especially Asian Trams. We are so thankful of Pakistan who played more with us and also Bangladesh who gave chance to our players to play in BPL. I expect the same from India and Sri Lanka to follow Pakistan and give hand to this magnificent and passionate team to come and make their name in Test nations.

  • Dummy4 on March 4, 2014, 7:13 GMT

    Great to see how Afghanistan made people's expectations higher from them to make an upset every game. Afghanistan will be learning from their batting mistakes and fielding mistakes from all of these games. I did not see any problem with bowling apart from Dawlat Zadran unable to make an impact in last 10 overs but If Nabi himself bowl in those overs then the problem is solved. Hamid Hassan is a much needed player but his injuries spoiled his career. Few players to come from U19 and make our batting line strong then we are up there to compete with any team. I thank all cricket fans by cheering us a lot and show pleasure by our presence which is a big couragment for us and our players. Love you Team Afghanistan

  • Dummy4 on March 4, 2014, 6:22 GMT

    I remember when Sri Lanka was competing in unofficial tests, at least 2 tail end batsmen were sloggers. What impressed me most about Afghanistan is none of the players looked inexperienced. Their batters, bowlers, and fielders could have easily taken to be Pakistani or an Indian player. It seems they are very sound technically and mentally tough. Given them 20-30 more games and they will have a good chance to beat any team. I sincerely hope IPL/ SLPL, BPL etc will pick few players from them so the motivation to play/follow the game will be more among the youngsters.

  • Dummy4 on March 4, 2014, 6:12 GMT

    Congratulations Afghanistan. Great Job. As a Sri Lankan supporter I was on pins thinking that you guys would beat us. That shows how good a side you guys are. Looking forward to see a team visiting Sri Lanka.

  • HASAN on March 4, 2014, 5:58 GMT

    its natural that afghanistan has good stand out bowlers because all of them have learned their cricket in pakistan and historically pakistan is too always loaded with excellent younger brother too going elder bothers way/....

  • Dummy4 on March 4, 2014, 5:51 GMT

    Afghans will get better once they have a competitive domestic structure in their country, also gets used to facing quality bowlers in international cricket. They struggled against Pak and Lanka, mainly because they couldn't pick the deliveries as they had never faced such quality bowlers in the associate level. Once they start playing regularly than they will get better. They have already shown, they are quick learners.

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