Mohammad Nabi, Afghanistan's Man of the Series in their historic victory over Zimbabwe, wants more matches against Full Members for his team. Despite Afghanistan's ground-breaking success in recent years, Zimbabwe remain the only Full Member currently willing to offer them a bilateral series, having played them at home in 2014 and also last month, with another limited-overs series between the two sides mooted for December in Dubai.
"The ICC do support us, but we need to play more Full Members. And now, after beating one and making history, maybe that support will increase and we'll play more," Nabi told ESPNcricinfo. "It was a really big win in Afghanistan's history [against Zimbabwe]. Especially my team was very happy, and back home everyone was just so happy. It was so emotional for us. There were tears. It's our dream to beat Zimbabwe, to make history and win a series against a Full Member. It's a big thing for us."
Despite their historic success, the full knock-on effect of Afghanistan's win over Zimbabwe has yet to be felt, and the Zimbabweans are the only Full Member they are scheduled to play outside of tournament events. Indeed, their participation in major tournaments remains Afghanistan's lifeline to top-level competition, but even here, they face some uncertainty.
Afghanistan will have to make it past two Full Members, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, to play in the tournament proper at the World T20 in March next year, while they will also have to win a qualifying round to play in the Asia Cup. Their participation in the 2019 World Cup in England will demand an even more arduous trek through qualifiers.
"[The ICC's decision to limit the 2019 World Cup to ten teams] is not good," Nabi said. "It's especially not good for Associate teams. You can't get into the top eight or the top nine without playing lots of games. It's so difficult. So I don't think that's a good decision from the ICC. But what can we do? We'll try our best to get into that top 10."
"Our main target has to be to go for that top eight [at the World T20]," said Nabi. "We've got to dominate that first round. Asian conditions, playing in India, will suit Afghanistan."
With 223 runs in five innings, Nabi was Afghanistan's key performer in their series win over Zimbabwe, and his returns were the third highest by any batsman from an Associate team in a bilateral ODI series. He overcame a first-ball duck in the opener to register a maiden one-day century and made vital contributions with bat and ball through the remainder of the matches. Nabi hit more sixes than any of his team-mates, with seven, but hit far fewer overall boundaries than the next highest run-scorers, Noor Ali Zadran and Mohammad Shahzad, displaying a keen aptitude for rotating the strike and picking his moment to attack.
"That is the main thing," Nabi said. "Attack the first ball, get a four or a six, then you've got five balls to play with. With singles and doubles, you'll automatically end up with ten runs in that over. It takes the pressure off. It's easy. And automatically the pressure is transferred to the fielding team."
Nabi displays a suaveness and ease both on and off the field that belies a cricketer comfortable in his own skin, yet willing to unpack his own game and work on his own weaknesses. Particularly, he has been working, with the help of new coach Inzamam-ul-Haq, on his mental approach at the crease.
"I've not been working too much on technical things, because everything is perfect, the coach says, so I've just been working on my mind and taking responsibility," Nabi explained. "They gave me a chance at one down, the coach and captain, and said 'it's your position for the one day series, and you must take responsibility and carry your team'. If you stay at the wicket, the runs come automatically, because you have plenty of strokes. If you control yourself, you'll make runs.
"[Inzamam] talks to us a lot about cricket, he tells us to be smart and use our brains. He says 'you boys have plenty of talent, there's no problem there, so just work on your mind and awareness and play according to the situation. If you want ten runs an over, work out how to get ten. If you want three or four runs an over, adapt and shape your game to that. Play the situation, and don't go for six or seven runs an over when you only need three or four'.
"So he works hard on our mentality. He has also shaped how we go about our net sessions as well, and for the batsmen, he has helped us in how we face spin. When taking on a spinner, it's not only big shots: how can you pick up ones and twos, rotate the strike. We work on that quite a lot."
The chance to focus solely on his own game is something that Nabi has come to appreciate hugely since relinquishing the captaincy of the side in April this year. "At the start of my captaincy I performed very well, we played six games in the World Cup qualifier, winning all in a row," he said. "I performed well, averaging around 50 or so, and we won those six games. But you know, for the last four or five months of my captaincy, I didn't perform well. There were big losses for my team, and my own loss of form affected the team badly. That's why I left the captaincy. If I didn't perform, Afghanistan can't perform, so I left."
Nabi was given all sorts of advice as he sought to rediscover his role in the side post-captaincy, and he revealed that some of that counsel came from a former team-mate and captain, Raees Ahmadzai, who had for the past 18 months been encouraging him to move up to No.3 in the batting order.
"Raees Ahmadzai told me, 'you must come up the order and prove to yourself that you have the ability to play at one down'," Nabi admitted with a smile, remembering Ahmadzai's insistence that it was the right move.
"But at that time the conditions weren't right, and also I was the captain, so that was why I didn't take on that additional responsibility. I was batting at No.5 at that time, and with captaincy came a responsibility for the whole team. That's why I didn't go up to No.3. But now I don't have the responsibility of captaining, I can take on the responsibility of batting at No.3. And, Mashallah, I've been scoring runs and that's because my only responsibilities are batting, bowling and fielding."
Nabi averages 56.20 at No.3 for Afghanistan in ODIs, but beyond his own personal success, he is of the firm belief that Afghanistan's rise has been due to their ethic of teamwork and relentless pursuit of victory, rather than any single player's efforts. "Every time we go out in a match, we go for the win. Losing is not in our mind. We fight, and we do that together, as a team. Teamwork is key. We all work together, that's why. It's the main thing. We have a lot of belief, and that's what you need if you're trying to beat a Full Member."
Despite their undeniable belief and will to succeed, without more regular bilateral competition against Full Members, Afghanistan remain in a similar state of limbo to Ireland at the top of the Associate pile. Though ICC funding is undoubtedly helping to keep the game afloat in Afghanistan while the team are unable to play at home, more games against elite sides would allow a far greater degree of self-sufficiency in terms of sponsorship.
With more than 200,000 registered cricketers in Afghanistan and a massive appetite for cricket among Afghan fans, there is a market waiting to be tapped. Nabi is tentative in his predictions of where Afghanistan might go from here as a team, but the ultimate goal remains clear: "Maybe, maybe [in a few years we will be] a Test nation. Inshallah. That's the dream."