An in-depth look at Asghar Afghan's reinstation, Gulbadin Naib's outburst and the turmoil in Afghanistan cricket
For long, Afghanistan cricket was the most romanticized story in world cricket. Despite all the struggles back home, the Afghanistan team won fans all around the world with their passion, skillset and never-say-die attitude.
Given cricket was the only source of happiness for millions of fans in Afghanistan, outsiders believed that the sport could be used as a major tool to help the country get out of its current troublesome state.
Yet, with Asghar Afghan being reappointed as captain and Gulbadin Naib threatening to expose a lot of people, a certain amount of fear has engulfed cricket fans all around the world about a possible decline of the promising Afghanistan team.
This messy saga started with the Afghanistan Cricket Board shockingly sacking long-time captain Asghar Afghan ahead of 2019 ICC World Cup in favour of all-rounder Gulbadin Naib.
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While most teams look for stability ahead of a World Cup, the Afghanistan Chief Selector at that point, Dawlat Ahmadzai gave a curious explanation for the sudden captaincy change. “Afghanistan is a treasury of cricketing talent and we selected three captains for three formats. We are in a position to go for transition. And you know, Asghar will not give us the World (Cup). So, we went for better choice and option than Asghar,” Ahmadzai said.
“Gulbadin has been playing for 12 years as a regular member of the team, so he will handle the team (well),” Ahmadzai added
While one thought that this sudden captaincy change was just a brain fade from the ACB administrators and team management and that the players would put this episode behind them, the side only faltered and endured a poor World Cup campaign where they lost all their nine matches.
The problems didn't just pop up on the field as the likes of Mohammad Shahzad and Aftab Alam were sent home for different reasons. While Mohammad Shahzad was sent back due to a knee injury even though the player himself denied being unfit, Aftab Alam was penalised for alleged misbehaviour.
Further, Phil Simmons who was Afghanistan's Head Coach until the World Cup also threatened to spill the beans about Chief Selector Dawlat Ahmadzai after alleging that he wasn't allowed to do his job properly. Incidentally, Phil Simmons also said that he had no idea about ACB making Gulbadin Naib as the new skipper.
"I am in the middle of a World Cup and trying to get our team to perform to the level we expect but at the end of the World Cup I will tell the Afghanistan people about the part that Mr Dawlat Ahmadzai had to play in our preparation and his part in the dismissal of #AsgharAfghan," said Simmons in response to a tweet by an Afghan journalist in which Ahmadzai was quoted to be laying the blame for the team's dismal run at the World Cup on the shoulders of the coaching staff led by Simmons.
After Afghanistan's World Cup campaign was done and dusted, it was expected that there will be some critical changes within the setup. The same happened with Rashid Khan becoming the captain in all formats of the game with Asghar Afghan assuming the role of vice-captain.
The fact that a certain Rahmat Shah (appointed as Test captain when Gulbadin Naib became ODI captain) was sacked without even leading the Test side in a match flew under the radar as the team seemingly looked to rebuild their future.
With the team registering a tremendous Test win in Bangladesh, many believed that Afghanistan were moving past their problems. The fact that Rashid Khan led the way with 11 wickets in the match also acted as an icing on the cake.
In the next bilateral assignment, Afghanistan continued to show positive signs with a 2-1 T20 series win against the West Indies although the performances weren't up to the mark in the three-match ODI series and also the one-off Test match.
Once the West Indies series came to an end, there wasn't any major news expected from Afghanistan cricket as the players departed to play for various franchises in different T20 leagues around the world.
However, just as sudden and surprising as Gulbadin Naib's appointment as captain, former captain Asghar Afghan was reappointed as Afghanistan's captain for all formats. This news shocked fans around the world as Afghanistan cricket continued to show no signs of stability and the captaincy musical chair made people wonder whether the team will face a decline similar to how Kenya did.
Several concerns were raised such as the reason behind abrupt removal of Rashid Khan as captain and the lack of transparency behind the scenes.
As if the already existing problems were enough, ex-captain Gulbadin Naib sent more shockwaves through a live video on Facebook. In that video, Naib alleged that the team underperformed under his captaincy and also said that Asghar Afghan has the support of a highly-placed official.
Later on, Naib also went onto tweet his concerns and even threatened to expose the corrupt people within Afghanistan cricket.
Going back to Naib's criticism about Atif Mashal and his power in Afghanistan cricket, the current government official Mashal served as ACB's chairman between January 2017 and September 2018. The senior team enjoyed a fruitful period under his reign both on and off the field. Perhaps, the biggest achievement came when ICC decided to award Afghanistan 'Full Member Status' in June 2017.
Even though Mashal's service was mostly successful, it wasn't without its fair share of problems. The Afghanistan Premier League is perhaps one of the biggest problems that popped up under his period. Senior cricketers like Noor Ali Zadran and Shapoor Zadran criticised Mashal and his administration after not being picked by APL sides.
While the league was successfully held in 2018, ACB decided to postpone the second season to 2020 after falling out with their commercial partner, Snixer Sports.
"The failure by Snixer Sports to pay the complete rights fees of the first edition as per the fees and payment schedule of the agreement, and concerns about risks for integrity of the league posed by people connected to Snixer Sports are the reasons for termination that form material breaches of the agreement," the ACB said in a statement.
There were also allegations regarding possible corruption during the first season and this only raised major doubts regarding the integrity of the competition.
While this was the major issue under Mashal, the World Cup and selection saga turned out to be black-spot for the next Chairman Azizullah Fazli who was relieved from his duty after the global event. Apart from constant changes at the administration level, there has also been constant chopping and changing of selectors and coaches which has caused turmoil in Afghanistan cricket.
With Asghar Afghan coming back, it is fair to say that the current Chairman Farhan Yusefzai's term hasn't started out with a great amount of clarity either. One wonders what Gulbadin Naib is set to reveal in the near future, what path will Afghanistan cricket take from here on and also whether the country will remain as one of cricket's greatest fairytales or fall into cricketing oblivion.
Published 12 Dec 2019, 02:39 IST