Ace spinner hopes the Covid-19 situation improves fast, and Afghanistan get a packed all-format calendar in place
Afghanistan have reached a stage where they are taken seriously by top-drawer oppositions in ODI and T20I because they have played those formats a lot, and therefore learnt and improved, Rashid Khan feels, adding that similar exposure in days’ cricket can make the side more competitive in Tests. Afghanistan played their first Test in June 2018, but have played just three Tests after that one, the last in November 2019 – “more than three-to-four Tests a year,” is what Khan wants.
“Everyone talks about Test cricket in Afghanistan now. If we play the longer formats, like Tests and ODIs, that is what makes you a better cricketer,” Khan told ESPNcricinfo recently, while with Lahore Qalandars in the PSL. “In a shorter format, you don’t have much time to reflect on your game, or try to improve, and you don’t really understand where and how everything works. In T20s, you hardly get to know yourself.
“When we played in the 2019 World Cup in England, we were struggling with the bat, we didn’t know how to do things. But later on, the more we played against the big sides, we started realising what to do and the right shot-selection. That gave us an idea how should we start and build the innings. Latter part of the tournament, we started scoring runs properly, and scored 250-plus in every game.
“That is something the boys are learning, and working on. So if we start playing longer formats, more than three-to-four Tests a year, which is really important for us, it will help the team and the players improve their cricket, especially the youngsters.”
Khan is one of the more recognisable around the cricket world because of his exploits in T20 cricket. He became Afghanistan’s first IPL millionaire when the Sunrisers Hyderabad used their Right to Match card for him in the January 2018 auction. He is one of the busiest T20 cricketers in the world, and has played for practically every major league there is. Overall, in 249 games, Khan has 344 wickets – the seventh-highest in the world – and in T20 Internationals, 89 from 48 games, only behind Lasith Malinga, Shahid Afridi, Shakib Al Hasan and Tim Southee.
Khan’s Test career hasn’t gone too badly either, as he has 23 wickets from four games, including three five-fors – one against Ireland in Dehradun and two in one Test against Bangladesh in Chattogram.
“Just imagine, if a youngster is playing a Test against a bigger team, only then he will realise what he needs to do and where he needs to improve,” Khan explained. “In T20 cricket, you are just there to swing your bat, and you don’t understand much. You either hit it or miss it, and it really doesn’t matter if you get out because it’s T20 cricket.
“But in Tests, you have to spend time (in the middle), you will be tested thoroughly. It’s a test of technique, how mentally strong you are, and even how much passion you have in you, whether you are capable enough to survive and can rescue your team. Test cricket is what makes you a better cricketer and this is where we can get to improve our skills and our cricket in the long run.”
Afghanistan will play a two-Test series – their first series of more than one game – against Zimbabwe in Abu Dhabi starting Tuesday. There has been a long gap between Tests for them, but it hasn’t really been in their control because of the Covid-19 situation.
“All the countries have been affected by this pandemic. We had so many series [scheduled] in this period, and most importantly, we missed the T20 World Cup in Australia [scheduled for late 2020], which we were looking forward to playing,” Khan said. “It was huge for the youngsters, and they were very keen for it, because we were well prepared for it and it could have changed the image of Afghanistan.
“But it didn’t happen because of Covid and also a few of our series were called off, including the big Test against Australia. The Test in Perth was huge for us, and everyone back home was waiting for it. It could have been a historic Test. It is like a dream that comes true for any player to be a part of it. I would have considered myself so lucky to play in Australia against Australia, but this pandemic has really affected us. Hopefully, things are better, and this year is a huge year for us as a team, as a nation, and as players, and we will try our best to deliver.”
Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo’s Pakistan correspondent