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'It's not about learning to defend or attack, it's about knowing when to defend or attack'

"Afghanistan have only themselves to blame because they've developed into a good team way too quickly for the fixtures to accommodate them" Gallo Images

After working with Zimbabwe, South Africa, and then in stints in the IPL (Mumbai Indians), BPL (Rajshahi Kings) and with Brampton Wolves (Global T20 Canada), Lance Klusener took charge of Afghanistan as head coach last September. Speaking from his home in Durban, the former South Africa allrounder tells us about the road forward, looks ahead to the T20 World Cup, and talks about his approach to coaching.

Afghanistan haven't lost a T20I series since 2017, and a few months ago they toppled a full-strength West Indies side. How do you rate their progress in the year of the T20 World Cup?
It's [T20 cricket] the focus for us. We are trying to play as much T20 as possible - there's an Asia Cup, a World Cup, and another T20 World Cup after that. We have a very good attack that includes guys who are playing [domestic T20 leagues] around the world. Our challenge is to score enough runs.

Rashid Khan, Mujeeb ur Rahman, Mohammad Nabi, Qais Ahmad - is this the best T20I spin attack going around?
Yeah, clearly - just with the variations. It is still a young team but they're getting a lot of experience playing around the world. So that's good for us. With Afghanistan not playing too much domestic cricket, it's a good sign.

"At the end of the day, only the player can do it. I can't pull him out of bed and make him do all the work. That's my challenge to the Afghanistan players"

Mohammad Shahzad is still suspended, but teenager Rahmanullah Gurbaz has fit into the set-up nicely and seems to have a variety of shots in his repertoire.
Gurbaz has had a lot on his shoulders and he has been brilliant. Stepping into the shoes of somebody like Shahzad, he has kept wicket and has responded brilliantly. There are not many players out there that work harder than him. So he's got a bright future and the talent is there, and going forward he's somebody with the potential to light up the white-ball scene.

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We just need to be careful that we don't get too ahead of ourselves. [He needs to] keep the feet on the ground and continue sticking to the basics and win games for Afghanistan. I still think he needs to do that more consistently. He needs to bat deeper and be not out at the end, not just light up the Powerplays. We need to grow his game a lot, but there are ingredients out there for something special for sure.

The batting line-up is packed with talent, but recently HD Ackerman, the batting coach, said that they need to pace the innings better and work on the running between the wickets. Do you agree?
We want to be a bit more energetic [between the wickets]. We are among the best in terms of boundary-hitting percentage, but if you look at the stats, our dot-ball percentage is high. So that's something we have chatted about and we're making an effort to get better at that. At that level it's about small changes that can make a big difference.

We need to play more cricket and against the top-ranked sides, but the fixtures are set so very far apart. Afghanistan have only themselves to blame because they've developed into a good team way too quickly for the fixtures to accommodate them. We will get there, so exciting times ahead.

Afghanistan don't have a designated white-ball finisher yet. Have you identified somebody for the role that you owned during your playing career for South Africa?
We will play differently with a different game plan. Yes, we don't have an out and out finisher, but we have power upfront. Given the opportunity and platform, there's no reason why a guy like Najib [Zadran], [Mohammad] Nabi, Rashid [Khan] can't step up and do that. We need to give them the platform, and that's the challenge. It's about learning to chase targets down.

How has Naveen-ul-Haq's recent rise and Shapoor Zadran's return helped balance an attack that is usually packed with spin?
Yeah, the competition between the seamers is there. Shapoor put up his hand and he has a lot going for him. I always look at an all-round package that can contribute in all departments with fielding and bowling too. He bowls from a nice height and he has got about 80 white-ball appearances for Afghanistan. It's nice to have that experience, but the youngsters are pushing hard - and he knows that too - and hopefully he can get the job done when it counts.

ALSO READ: Naveen-ul-Haq hopes to start a pace-bowling revolution in Afghanistan

How vital was the 2-1 series victory over the T20 World Cup defending champions West Indies recently?
It just shows you how much talent is there. If we can just be a little more consistent and be a bit better at small thingsā€¦ A guy like Naveen [ul-Haq] has wonderful talent. We just need to keep our feet on the ground. He has played just six [five] T20Is and his numbers are flattering so far. He has some good variations and decent pace, but same as Gurbaz, time will tell. It's about playing against strong oppositions. With respect to Ireland and Zimbabwe, for Afghanistan's growth we need to play against bowlers that are consistently bowling at 140. Manning up to pace like that is going to be the real challenge for the batsmen; we don't get much opportunity to play against such oppositions.

"My job is to get the best out of national players. I won't be remembered for scouting in the leagues. I will be remembered for the games that I help Afghanistan win"

Were you able to address their concerns in the camp you had in Dubai earlier this year?
Yeah, we tried to create match simulations and tried to face what we might get in T20 cricket. But then again, you can't beat game time. We need to try to get as many games as we can before those big comps [Asia Cup and T20 World Cup].

You've worked with international sides and have also worked in different capacities in T20 leagues. How do you think you have evolved as a coach?
The most important thing is reading what you've got in front of you and understanding every team is different - different strengths and weaknesses. You get four or five years when you can develop a team, so you have to work with what you have got and develop that as best as you can.

It has been nice working with the best talent in the world and that's what excites me as a coach. You have to be realistic with what you can achieve and how you go about it.

Franchise T20 coaching can be difficult - you get players who come in and go, and you might sometimes have to change [your coaching style] to accommodate the players that come and go. It can be challenging, but if the communication is decent and if you have mature players - sometimes the coach needs to move that around, with players leaving a comp or even being injured.

You were big on game time as a player and used to hit several hundred balls at practice sessions. Have you managed to incorporate that kind of training into the Afghanistan set-up too?
Yes, we do. You can only get so much done and always remember that a lot of that quality work is done on our own. You can't just wait for coaches and associations to organise camps and spoon-feed you. Many players go away and bowl at targets when they're necessarily in international set-ups. It's part of the learning and we challenge the boys to also go away and do the hard work on their own.

Dolphins' Khaya Zondo singled you out as a key figure in his resurgence after he was dropped. How important is man-management and communication with players?
At the end of the day, only the player can do it. Maybe he can benefit from my knowledge and my experience, but at the end of the day I can't pull him out of the bed and make him do all the work. A guy like Khaya, he took it on board and he did what he needed to do. That has to come from within. The passion is always there and it's available and if you want to achieve something better, you need to be open to change. That's my challenge to the Afghanistan players. You can average 25 or 30, but maybe you can average 40-plus if you learn a new shot or have a different approach.

Have you had time to watch domestic cricket and the Shpageeza League and scout new talent?
That talent is there. There are scouts and selectors who are hands-on, and they'll feed the best players to the national team. We have quite a few camps and stuff, and that gives us the opportunity to look at those players. However, my job is to get the best out of national players. I won't be remembered for scouting these leagues. I will be remembered for the games that I help Afghanistan win.

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Gulbadin Naib captained Afghanistan in the 50-over World Cup, Rashid Khan took over from him before passing the reins to Asghar Afghan again. Have the switches in captaincy affected the team's plans?
Now, it's [Afghan as captain] set in stone for the T20 World Cup. It's never healthy for any environment for too much change in leadership positions because it takes time for everyone to figure out how a captain functions. And what one captain requires from you with respect to another can be different. So it's important that there's consistency there. It wasn't great to see changes in leadership positions prior to the [2019] World Cup. They didn't win a game there.

Afghanistan A recently travelled to Bangladesh. Has there been talk about getting more A games into the schedule?
It's important, but ultimately the real benefits are going to come when Afghanistan has a solid domestic league - a league where the boys learn their cricket. You look around at the best teams in the world right now - Australia, India, England - and look at their domestic structures. How good it is there that reflects directly in their national team. What Afghanistan has achieved and the talent that's there from a limited domestic scene is phenomenal. The challenge to grow the game on the domestic scene is always going to be there. It's not just about learning to defend or attack, those guys can all do that. It's about reading the game and knowing when to defend or attack. That's the difference.