By Baber Khan Sahel and Ahmad Siyar Sirat
Cricket in Afghanistan as well as other sports have had several achievements over the past decade and would see more development in future if sportsmen are supported and provided more facilities, said the Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB) president, Shahzada Massoud, in an interview with Afghanistan Times. He said Afghans have natural knack and talent for sports. They would go much further if there is lasting peace and stability in the country.
Q: What is the overall situation of cricket in Afghanistan? Do you think current political situation has affected cricket in Afghanistan?
A: As you know, the current political crisis has affected all sectors but fortunately the ACB’s activities are going well. The current situation has mentally affected our players, but despite that there is no pause in ACB’s activities yet as we are sure the current situation will take a positive turnaround.
Q: Do you face any problem such as lack of budget?
A: No. We are not faced with such a problem. Actually, we have made efforts to get sponsorships and we have made worth satisfactory achievements in this regard, which somehow breaks our dependence on government budgets. If we remain dependent only on government budgets then we will face many problems because the government allocates small budget for the ACB, which hardly address our needs.
Q: Do you think national players are good in ODI or test match and in which they face problems?
A: I think our players particularly the national players have best experiences in test matches. It was the first time they have made way to ODI matches and they did well by defeating Zimbabwe. Defeating the host team was not so easy job but Afghans did it.
Our young players played well against Zimbabwe. Usman Ghani is one of them. He played outstandingly. Fortunately, our young players are fully equipped with talent and fervor. They will replace the national players in future. Afghans have best talent in all sports given that these talents are explored and polished. The ACB’s biggest policy is to improve cricket inside the country. It will help us to find hidden talents among the young generation.
Q: How do you see cricket’s future in Afghanistan?
A: I see a bright and successful future of this sport. It has tremendously improved in shortest possible time. The ACB struggles to improve this sport to a new level. For instance we have launched the “Sixes Tournament” in Kabul which includes teams from all over Afghanistan. Young players played brilliantly in Zimbabwe match. Hope they achieve more and give us more pride as our veteran players did in the past decade.
Q: It means test match and ODI doesn’t matter, it were the new players who drubbed Zimbabwe?
A: Yes, I think the national squad’s victory in Zimbabwe was the outcome of young players’ talent and unbeatable confidence.
Q: What is your future plan for ODI matches?
A: The next ODI matches will be held in Australia and New Zealand. The environment there is different in comparison to Afghanistan. Since 2013, the ACB particularly the technical committee has organized good plans to prepare the team for world cup 2015. Fortunately, an Australian coach, Peter Anderson, has shouldered the responsibility to train the national players and prepare them for the environment of Australia and New Zealand. Mr. Anderson had some concerns about security situation when he was here for the first time but nowadays he is very happy and working hard with the team. He counts on the Afghanistan cricket team and sees a brighter future for them.
We have good plans for 2015 World Cup. I hope we will make headlines in the 2015 World Cup as we are going to land our young players as well, which will add to the strength and confidence of our cricket team.
Q: Is it possible to provide the same pitch of Australia or other country in Afghanistan?
A: No, it cannot be as it is not only the pitch but also the weather and environment that vary in every country. I remember that once the under-19 team was in Australia in January and the weather was quite different as compared to weather in Afghanistan. The ACB has prepared a long-term plan. Under this plan, players will be sent to Australia one month ahead of the matches and will play in training camps. They will also play friendly matches in order to be ready for better achievements in the world cup.
Q: Considering the plans, do you think our team will improve or stay in current situation?
A: As I said before, there are many talented and emerging players among the young generation in Afghanistan. It means that youngsters in this country strive harder. But what we lack is facilities, equipments and playgrounds. These are available in other countries but not in Afghanistan. Despite all these hardships, I want to say that if there is lasting peace and stability and sports opportunities in Afghanistan, Afghans will go much further in all sports. I see a bright future for cricket when comparing it with other sports as it has short history in the country but enthusiasm and commitment of players enabled them to reach world cup three times and bring several cups from different countries despite having fewer facilities. I believe in Afghan youth. They are able to explore their talent much better than those in foreign with all kinds of facilities at their doorsteps.
Q: Will you provide some information about women cricket in Afghanistan?
A: As I said cricket has short history in Afghanistan. It is a difficult game but Afghan women are interested to play. Fortunately, there is an office in the ACB that works on women’s cricket. Girls play cricket at schools and we have launched a tournament for them.
But I think that considering the situation in Afghanistan, we need time, peace and stability to improve women’s cricket in the country. In most provinces, girls are not allowed to play cricket thus it requires some time to achieve our goals in this field.
Q: Does the ACB provide facilities and playgrounds for girls?
A: A tournament has been arranged for girls in Kabul. We will provide facilities and playground to them. The ACB will leave no stone unturned to establish a national cricket team for women that include players from all provinces. Some provinces due to insecurity need more time to improve in women’s cricket.
Q: Is there any financial source for the ACB in case of drawdown in international support?
A: Sports are supported by private sector or private companies in other countries. Unfortunately, this culture is newborn in Afghanistan. National investors will support Afghan cricket and other sports in case of lasting peace and stability in this war-weary country.
The national squad has full support of the nation. What they lack is support of sponsors. Hope the new government thoroughly support the young generation particularly sportsmen as they bring pride to this country and raise the flag of Afghanistan across the world in many playgrounds.
But the government allocates insufficient budget to the ACB. In Pakistan, 10 percent of the tax that the cricket team pays to the government is higher than the budget which Afghan government allocates for the national cricket team. It means more fund is spent on players in other countries. The main thing we need is peace and stability. We will improve very well once our country becomes an abode to peace.
Q: Would you name the countries that support Afghan cricket?
A: We have received technical assistance from different countries particularly those that have embassies in Afghanistan. Australia, Bangladesh, India and Pakistan have technically supported the Afghan cricket. Hope they continue their support in future also.
But the International Cricket Council (ICC) provides us financial support. We have international stadium in Kabul and Nangarhar and two of such stadiums will be built in Kandahar and Khost. Hope we have such stadiums in other provinces as well.
Q: How much transparency is considered in appointing the ACB staff or selecting national players?
A: The ACB follows a successful policy since I was appointed as its director. This policy enables talented and qualified personnel to work in this organization through free competition. No matter if he/she is the CEO or other employee of the ACB; this policy covers all employees. This policy has been the secret of our success.
Q: Does the ACB provide salary or any other privileges to players?
A: In other countries, only national players are provided salaries and some other privileges, but the ACB provides salary to 40 players which include the national team, the A and as well as the under-19 team.
Almost all of our players are faced with economic problems but what is important for us is focusing on their talent.
Q: Which criteria the ACB adopts in selecting players?
A: The main secret of our success is that we are very serious in selecting players. It means we prefer nothing but talent and eligibility of players. This is why cricket in Afghanistan succeeded with flying colors in really much shorter time. There has been no nepotism and we don’t accept any pressure from anybody in selection process.
Q: Who is your favorite cricketer in the world?
A: There are 10 countries that have long history in cricket and are full member. There are famous players in the world. But I like my own team and players. Believe me. Other countries are not able to gain the achievements we have had in the past decade in the face of too many challenges. Afghan players are my favorites. Many of them are black horses.
Q: Who is your favorite player in national team?
A: Cricket is a collective game. I like all the players. As they have had several achievements with less facilities. I am proud of them. They have brought several cups to the country. These cups are here in the ACB. Each player is worth appreciation and each one has his own talent and part.
Q: Is there any player whose presence and absence can make a difference?
A: Yes, he is Hamid Hassan. His absence caused a biggest void. But, we have other talented players as well that will fill the gap. As I said we count on young players and they will replace the national players one day.
Q: Do you select player of the year or man of the match? As we witnessed Gulbuddin Nayib played outstandingly in a match in UK. People expected that he will be praised, but when he returned home he was almost forgotten. Would you comment on this?
A: Such incidents have occurred several times. There are many players that have played outstandingly in different matches. Sometimes victory has been because of a single player.
One of the talented players is Mohammad Nabi Isakhel. He has been named as one of the eight players in the world. There are more than 100 courtiers that are member of ICC but Afghanistan is 11th. This rank is according to ODI matches but we are in 8th and sometimes 9th position in T20 matches.
A new committee has been established in ICC, the Development Committee, and fortunately Afghanistan has got the committee’s membership. It means the capacity of the organization as well as the team has surged.
These players or other players or any other young player in each and every part of the country will bring more and more pride and will make much more achievements for the country given that they are supported in a peaceful situation. Afghans are talented in each and every field given that lasting peace and stability is restored.
Q: How many trainees or players have been enrolled in Afghanistan cricket academy? Are these academies established in all provinces?
A: We have cricket academy in almost all provinces including Kabul. The ACB for the first time established indoor academy based on international norms. At least 85 percent of work on this academy has been completed and the remaining will be completed soon. This academy defers from other academies in Afghanistan. It is like a university, a university of cricket. The Australian coach leads this academy. Those who have talent are trained in the academy and are later on introduced to the cricket team. We have cricket teams in all provinces. Our stadiums in Kabul and Nangarhar meet almost all international standards. The two other will be built in Khost and Kandahar. Hope we have the same stadiums in north as well. There are lots of cricket lovers also.
One more thing which is worth sharing is the land for ACB compound has been granted by President Karzai after a decision made by the Council of Ministers. This is a biggest step ever taken by the government. Hope cricket will make an enviable headway and coming generations will invest their energies in this sport. Should this happen and we will be one united and undividable nation as sports nurture national unity and spirit.