We need exposure against the top teams
What a year it has been for Afghanistan cricket! Winning the ICC World Twenty20 Qualifier in Dubai in February was a moment I will never forget; having the chance to play India and South Africa at the ICC World Twenty20 in the Caribbean was amazing and beating Pakistan at the Asian Games and securing a silver medal was one of the greatest moments of my career.
Obviously it would have been nice to have won gold but the fact that we pushed Bangladesh so close, particularly a strong team led by somebody as accomplished as Mohammad Ashraful, showed that we deserve a chance to play against the big teams on a more regular basis. We need exposure against some of the top ODI nations if we are to improve, and that is my main wish for 2011.
While the excitement of our Asian Games campaign won’t be forgotten in a hurry, we are all looking forward to our latest challenge, which is to win the ICC Intercontinental Cup against Scotland this week in Dubai. We beat Scotland in the group stages and have enjoyed a good record against them, but we know that we have to play well to beat them.
Although not that many cricket fans know too much about the ICC Intercontinental Cup, I think it is a really important tournament. My game has improved a lot as a result of playing in the tournament and that has helped me in the shorter format as well.
You certainly have to be a lot fitter to last a four-day game and I think that has helped us become a better fielding side as well. The fact that Ireland, who have set the standards in Associate cricket in recent times, have won the previous three titles, shows that you need to be an excellent team to win this trophy.
I am excited that the final is being played over five days as it will be like playing Test cricket, so I am keen to perform well. I think a five-day game makes you work harder to take wickets as there is less pressure on the batsmen to score quickly, so they take less risks.
We have been training at the new ICC Global Cricket Academy, which I am told is where the Pakistan and South Africa players prepared for the recent Test Match in Dubai, and it is an amazing facility. I wish we had something similar back home, but at least things are moving in the right direction in that regard and we are all excited about the building of new cricket stadiums in Kabul and Jalalabad. However, we need to have lots of pitches all over Afghanistan to ensure that in the future we can have the best young players in the world.
We have had our final day of training today ahead of the final starting on Thursday and I am hoping that thousands of Afghans living in Dubai will come and support us like they did at the Twenty20 Qualifier.
To lift another trophy this year would be a special moment for the team and I would quite like to add another medal to my collection.
Akhila Ranganna is assistant editor (Audio) at ESPNcricinfo