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Afghanistan showcase benefits of long-term planning and fortitude

Their historic victory showed how well they had planned after their disastrous World Cup, using their limited resources

Mohammad Isam
Mohammad Isam
The Afghanistan players walk off the field, Bangladesh v Afghanistan, Only Test, Chattogram, 4th day, September 8, 2019

The Afghanistan players walk off the field  •  BCB

If a team has just performed poorly at a World Cup, a structural overhaul of some kind is usually in order. With Afghanistan, there was a sudden change in captaincy just prior to the event, which hadn't gone down well with some of the senior players. But, as they crashed out after losing all their nine games, other issues came to the fore, and even the players' temperament was called into question. Changes were inevitable.
In the period since, the ACB handed the captaincy reins to Rashid Khan, and when Phil Simmons left as head coach, they put Andy Moles, the chief selector, in his place on a temporary basis.
While Moles' appointment highlighted the lack of options, Afghanistan have shown over the years that they tend to make the best of whatever resources they have. In fact, their ability to compete despite limited resources is what endears them to the neutral, besides lending more weight to wins over higher-ranked teams.
Their 224-run win over Bangladesh in the one-off Test, in their first match since the World Cup, has that wonderful glow. Rashid, one of the best bowlers in the world, took 11 wickets in the match and scored a crucial half-century, in his first match as captain. Rahmat Shah struck the team's first-ever Test hundred, Asghar Afghan made two half-centuries, and Mohammad Nabi took crucial wickets.
But this victory didn't just come because of them. Ibrahim Zadran, Afsar Zazai, Zahir Khan and Qais Ahmed also chipped in with handy contributions. Afghanistan had depth in their talent pool, and it showed how well they had planned, and prepared.
Afghanistan A's tour of Bangladesh in July made it better. They had dominated that series, winning the unofficial Test series 1-0, and then rain deprived them of the one-day series triumph, with Bangladesh A salvaging a 2-2 draw in the five-match series.
Ibrahim was the standout performer then, averaging 96.40 in the seven matches, hitting a century and three fifties. Qais, the legspinner, took 15 wickets including ten in the first unofficial 'Test' that they won convincingly. Of the 19 players who toured then, four played the Test in Chattogram. Another six players are in the T20I side that will take part in the tri-series in a few days.
Now take Afsar Zazai, the wicketkeeper-batsman. He didn't score many runs but left Bangladesh with a better understanding of their opponents and pitches. When he saw no grass on the Chattogram pitch, he could even tell his seniors what the home side was planning.
Nabi, who announced his retirement during the Test, said that his faith in this crop of youngsters was the reason behind his decision to leave the format. He said that he has done his bit to achieve the Test status, and now wants the youngsters to build on it.
"It is a great feeling [to win the Test match] because we are new in this format," Nabi said. "We have won two out of three Tests. It shows our domestic structure is strong. The way the youngsters adjusted to the conditions, it was brilliant. It is a bright future for the youngsters.
"For the last 15 years, I have served Afghanistan. It was my dream to play Test cricket. We worked hard towards it. We achieved this target in the last seven to eight years. We won the Intercontinental Cup twice and once were runners-up, which helped us gain the Test status. I am really happy to be part of that long journey for Afghanistan. I am leaving Tests because I believe the youngsters have a bright future in Tests. I want to focus on ODIs and T20s, and Insha Allah I will try to keep my body fit for those formats."
Nabi said that the Test win wasn't just built on potential, but hard work in the camps - in Abu Dhabi and in Chattogram - over the last month. He said that in someone like Ibrahim, he saw the ability to tackle Test cricket. "We had our preparation camp in Abu Dhabi where we spent five days in 46-47 degrees, so it was nice to come here in better weather. We adjusted to these conditions, and we prepared really well for this game. It reflected on how we batted and bowled.
"Our batsmen put up a good total in the first innings, and then I must congratulate young Ibrahim for his performance. He proved that he has the ability and talent to play for the national team."
Some of the more senior Afghanistan players, like Rahmat on the first day, also credited the Intercontinental Cup as one of the foundations of their preparedness for Test cricket. But as Zazai said after the fourth day's play, they are more known for their white-ball exploits, so winning this game was far more important for them in that regard.
"It would mean a lot, to be honest. The people know that our players are good enough for white-ball cricket, but we don't have that much experience in Test cricket," Zazai said. "So in this Test and the last one against Ireland, we showed we can play Test cricket as well.
"It means more than T20 and ODI for us. We discussed in the dressing room that this is an important game for us, to prove in this level."
They didn't just prove that they have a group of competent cricketers. They proved they were mentally prepared too. After all, they have just conquered tough conditions and opponents away from home in just their third Test.

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84