Afghanistan Premier League will improve the standards of the local players, says Venkatesh Prasad
The 2018 Afghanistan Premier League got underway last night with Kabul Zwanan beating Paktia Panthers by three wickets in a high-scoring thriller. The tournament, featuring five teams, will have some star players including the likes of Chris Gayle, Andre Russell, Brendon McCullum, Rashid Khan, Colin Munro etc.
Unfortunately, not even a single Indian player is a part of the league. However, there is an Indian connection to the league as former India pacer and the bowling coach of Kings XI Punjab, Venkatesh Prasad, has been roped in as the coach of Nangarhar Leopards in the tournament. Along with Prasad, Lakshmi Narayanan, the performance analyst of 2018 IPL champions Chennai Super Kings has been roped in by the franchise.
Sportskeeda caught up with Prasad ahead of the team's first match of the season against Kandahar Knights later today. Here are the excerpts.
Q: What are your expectations as the coach of Nangarhar?
No expectations as such. We are all professionals and we have to do our job. Starting something like this (APL) in the lines of IPL is a great concept and a big achievement for the Afghanistan board. It is also a fantastic platform for the Afghan players to showcase their skills. In the Asia Cup, the Afghan players showed that they got a lot of talent and skill. It is a great opportunity for everyone who is involved with the APL.
Q: You have been a part of the IPL set-up in the past. How different and difficult is the APL from a league like IPL?
We, at Nangarhar, are very fortunate to have very good players, very good foreigners. We have Andre Russell as our icon player and you know what he can do as he has been a part of the IPL for a long time and has done well in other countries also. It is a great chance for the Afghanistan players to play alongside Russell, Ben Cutting, Mitchell McClenaghan etc. It is nice and it is a great opportunity for them. Our preparations have been wonderful and I hope we do well in the tournament. The preparations have been as good as any team in the IPL. The facility, right from the clothing, that has been provided to the players by the owners have been fantastic.
Q: Talking about players in specific, you have the likes of Mujeeb ur Rahman and Sandeep Lamichhane. How do you see such mystery spinners developing in leagues like IPL or APL?
These leagues help in the growth of some interesting players. That's the beauty of the format and the beauty of the game. This is where you can see a lot of players, sort of mystery players. We have a player called Zahir Khan, who was a part of the Rajasthan Royals side before getting injured. He is one such player. In that sense, you can see a lot of them. I am definitely looking forward to working with these guys.
Q: How helpful will the APL be for the Afghanistan internationals?
We are not seeing much of Afghanistan cricket. They have got a lot of experience, they have been playing a lot of cricket, of course not international cricket. They are playing a lot in Pakistan. In that way, they have experience of playing in the shorter formats. Look at the way they played in the Asia Cup. They gave a run for their money to most of the big teams in the tournament. We get to see a lot of talents and I am pretty sure that the players will only improve from here on. They have done well in the shorter formats. Now, that the APL is coming in, the Afghan players will play alongside some international stars and will only get more exposure.
Q: Afghanistan lost two close matches in the Asia Cup. What went wrong for them? Will playing alongside some international stars help the Afghans develop the killer instinct the players need to win matches?
They have the intent to go out and win matches but what they were missing is the experience. That's how the Bangladesh team was a few years back but they are a completely different side now. As far as Afghanistan are concerned, I am pretty sure that they will reach there quicker than what Bangladesh did. A tournament like the APL will only improve their standards. When they get to play against international players, they get to know where they stand and they can only improve from there.
Q: What is the X-factor about Mujeeb ur Rahman? He even had a great Asia Cup. Did you speak to him after the tournament? How is he feeling right now?
Yes, absolutely. The economy he had was fantastic, right? He is a supremely confident bowler. In the IPL, he got MS Dhoni out, Virat Kohli bowled and got a few top batsmen out. That has really given him a lot of confidence. Adding to that, his performance in the Asia Cup must have given him a huge amount of confidence. He believes in his abilities. He is someone who doesn't think much and just goes out about doing his job in a consistent manner.
Q: How different will APL be from IPL for you as a coach?
For me, coaching at the highest level is all about handling the players and allowing them to showcase their skills. That is the whole point. There is not much difference anyway. It is about giving the freedom for the players to express themselves, which is very important. That's what I am doing with the Afghanistan players, give them some freedom, let them play their game and express themselves.
Q: What does Venkatesh Prasad, the coach, expect from his players, especially the Afghanistan players, at Nangarhar?
As I said, I am not expecting anything from them. I just want them to play their game and express themselves. That's what I expect from them.