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Win over Pakistan carries a lot of 'emotions and significance' for Afghanistan

Assistant coach Ahmadzai says 2-1 T20I triumph will "give our cricket a new spirit"

Umar Farooq
Umar Farooq
The Afghanistan players pose with the trophy, Afghanistan vs Pakistan, 3rd T20I, Sharjah, March 27, 2023

"It is special to win against a top nation," Afghanistan assistant coach Ahmadzai said  •  Afghanistan Cricket Board

Afghanistan are toasting a first ever T20I series win over Pakistan, with their assistant coach Raees Ahmadzai describing the achievement as one that could "give our cricket a new spirit".
Ahmadzai has been with the team for two years now. He was on the sidelines watching as Afghanistan went 2-0 up, their bowlers reducing Pakistan to 92 for 9 in the first T20I and 130 for 6 in the second. They were unable to complete the series sweep as a young Pakistan team found new heroes of their own but the mood in the camp is still understandably upbeat.
"Beating a higher ranked team is big for the country," Ahmadzai told ESPNcricinfo. "I can't explain the significance of this victory in words because it carries a lot of emotions. This is going to give our cricket a new spirit and give us a belief that we can do it and we did it. It became history and we are going to take this trophy back to Kabul giving our people much-needed joy."
Outside of their exploits against Zimbabwe and Ireland, this was only their third T20I series win over an ICC Full Member. The other two came in 2018 against Bangladesh and 2019 against West Indies.
The three matches, which took place over the last week, were not part of the Future Tours Programme. It was arranged to fill the gap in the calendar after Australia withdrew from playing against Afghanistan.
Until now, Pakistan and Afghanistan mostly faced off against each other in ICC events, with Pakistan winning a vast majority of the matches. But this time they came into the series resting several first-choice players - including Babar Azam, Mohammad Rizwan and Shaheen Afridi - and Afghanistan took advantage.
"It is special to win against a top nation," Ahmadzai said, "And Pakistan fielded a strong side with a lot of PSL performers who have been scoring big runs and taking wickets. So it's exciting to beat a top cricket nation. It's not like we never came close to beating Pakistan before. There were some close games in the past in which Pakistan won but it's good to pull a series.
"This is not just a win for Afghanistan cricket but for cricket as a game because this victory is going to inspire many youngsters who will start picking up the game in Afghanistan. Our people back home were skeptical, and taunted us, doubting our ability if we are ever going to beat a bigger team like Pakistan, India, Australia, and England. There were fans who don't understand the process but just want to win and want to take pride in it and now everyone is happy. It's like a festival now. Cricket has been a major source of happiness, people love cricket and this series win brought a lot of smiles. The game is already growing in the country and such wins change the dynamic at the grassroots."
The conditions in Sharjah also offered Afghanistan and their spinners a little bit more than the pitches that were used in the PSL and Ahmadzai praised his players for making full use of it. "We knew that Pakistan team coming from scoring so many runs in PSL and they could go all with the same pattern hitting uppish," he said. "They are very talented cricketers but we knew the pressure of international cricket is going to test them. So we had to exploit the conditions and the rhythm they were enjoying playing in Pakistan. We have world-class spinners and we had to use our new ball smartly.
"We didn't have much time to prepare for the series but we knew this series was an opportunity to learn and execute what we know. We took full advantage of the conditions and restricted them to 90 and 130 odd runs. There are a lot of takeaways from the series, especially in our fast bowling department, we know we need to get more control in death bowling. We have stroke makers in our batting line-up but we have made them learn to take the innings deep when you have a bigger target in front of them. We have world-class spinners and they delivered up to the expectations."
Contests between Afghanistan and Pakistan are quite intense with incidents of both fans and players squaring off against each other. When asked about this, Ahmadzai said, "we have produced the finest [T20] cricketer for the game [Rashid Khan] and I often hear odd things about our nation that we don't understand the game and don't have the temperament for high-class cricket which is totally wrong.
"We have role models in form of Rashid Khan who is the greatest ambassador of the game. There was an isolated incident of aggression in the field which has given a false impression. We respect the game and showing passion on the ground is a natural act and very much part of the game. We play the game according to the rules and regulations defined by ICC. What happens in the crowd is out of our control, we can't control how people think and respond and it's the role of security and stadium authorities to manage.
"But what I can tell you is that we are a peace-loving country and play the game in the right spirit. There is a little rivalry going on with Pakistan and that's healthy for the game."
Ahmadzai cited a passage of play in this series where Mohammad Nabi was seen glaring at Imad Wasim after picking up the wicket of Faheem Ashraf. "There was an incident that, to the outsider might seem like an example of the usually tense atmosphere in these games, but actually showcases Nabi's smarts. Viewers might remember when he dismissed Faheem in the first T20, he turned around and apparently stared at Imad Wasim at the non-strikers. In fact, they had been discussing how much the ball was breaking on the pitch and when he took the wicket, he turned to show Imad, a team-mate at Karachi Kings, how much control he has over his bowling to have landed it exactly right."
Afghanistan next assignment is a full tour of Bangladesh in June, where they will play two Tests, three ODIs and three T20Is.

Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent