Stanikzai calls for Full Members to front up
Asghar Stanikzai, the Afghanistan captain, has welcomed the call from a trio of former international captains, Sachin Tendulkar, Brian Lara and Michael Vaughan, for greater opportunities to be given to Associate nations, and has challenged cricket's senior sides to offer his team bilateral series in which their true ability and progress could be assessed.
In the wake of Afghanistan's spirited showing against South Africa in Mumbai on Sunday, in which Mohammad Shahzad's blistering 44 from 19 balls briefly threatened an upset, Vaughan took to Twitter to reiterate his criticism of the 10-team format that has been agreed for the next World Cup in 2019.
"Such a shame we won't see Countries like Afghanistan in the next WC.It's refreshing and great for the game.Please change your minds @ICC," he wrote.
His sentiments were echoed by Lara and later Tendulkar, who added: "Completely agree. Spirit & performance of teams like Afghanistan & Oman echo the need for more teams at WC & beyond!"
Speaking on the eve of Afghanistan's penultimate Group 1 showdown, against England in Delhi, Stanikzai said that his players had been emboldened by the support, and stated that their ambition was to claim at least one Full Member scalp in their remaining two Super 10s fixtures.
"Definitely, it's been highly proud for us that we are hearing such tweets from cricket legends," he said. "It is true that the team is playing good cricket, so definitely we need ICC support for the upcoming World Cup [in 2019].
"In this World Cup many people thought that our games would be one-sided, but now [our opponents] are really preparing and planning, and scaring to be honest, that this is a side which can beat us.
"Our guys have the potential so we need the ICC's support," he added. "Definitely we are eager to play in each and every World Cup, and we have requested Full Members to play a series with us. If you only play one game with a team, you cannot compare how good they are, but if you play two or three matches, you have a good chance to beat them."
Completely agree. Spirit & performance of teams like Afghanistan & Oman echo the need for more teams at WC & beyond! https://t.co/H190gk7YdE— sachin tendulkar (@sachin_rt) March 21, 2016
In the past six months alone, Afghanistan have proven this point handsomely with home and away series victories against Zimbabwe, in both ODIs and T20Is. They won 3-2 and 2-0 respectively in Bulawayo in October, before repeating the same scoreline in Sharjah two months later.
"We have beaten them in all of them, we have won four series against a Full Member," said Stanikzai. "So you can see how competitive we would be if we were given the chance in the upcoming World Cup."
Eoin Morgan, England's captain, also leant his support to Afghanistan's cause, adding that his experiences with Ireland in the early part of his international career demonstrate the importance of nurturing emerging nations.
"I think it is very important for the sport to grow," said Morgan. "Associate nations are key in evolving our sport and giving them as much opportunities as we can."
Asked whether he would welcome the prospect of playing Afghanistan in a bilateral series in the future, Morgan was cautiously positive about the prospect.
"Certainly, as an England captain sitting here and captaining guys who play in all three formats of the game, I know the gruelling schedules they go through and the need for time off.
"But I can see a time when we do play tri-series against different sides, not necessarily with our strongest side, but with as good a side as we can at the time and giving some guys a bit of a break. I see that coming down the line."
Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. He tweets @miller_cricket