'Dehradun feels like home': Afghanistan cricket starting a new chapter
As Afghanistan line up on Sunday (3rd June) to take on Bangladesh in first of a three-match T20 series, it would be the start of something huge for Afghan cricket. Dehradun, the latest addition in their list of adopted homes, will host its first international match and with the BCCI's decision that every team touring India would play practice matches against the Afghans, many more days like these are in the store.
Set against the backdrop of mighty Himalayan mountain ranges, you wouldn't be fooling yourself for thinking that the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium indeed gives a feel of the Alokozay Kabul International stadium which has mountains of Khair Khana in the background. A similar feeling was echoed by Afghanistan captain Asghar Stanikzai as his team prepares to play their first match here.
"It feels great to be in Dehradun. Sharjah and Greater Noida have been our home grounds as well and now we have Dehradun."
"The best thing about this place is that it looks like Afghanistan, with the mountains surrounding the stadium. It feels like home."
To top it all off, BCCI's decision to give Afghanistan the chance to play practice matches against every touring team has been welcomed by everyone associated with Afghan Cricket.
"It's great news for Afghanistan cricket that BCCI has announced that each team touring India will play us first. It is good for our cricket. The format doesn't matter, what matters is we will play more games and get the right exposure. It is also great for the people of Afghanistan, as they really love the game. Special thanks to the BCCI for this announcement," said the Afghan captain.
"I don't mind whether it's T20s or Tests, as long as we are playing international matches and our players are getting enough exposure."
While talking to Sportskeeda, Shafiq Stanikzai, Chief Executive of Afghanistan Cricket Board had something similar to say. And while taking international cricket back home might still be a distant dream, Stanikzai was upbeat about the fact that they now have two 'home' grounds in India.
"It will be a real good opportunity for us to get good number of games to get exposure, showcase our talent against top teams of the world. It's a very good opportunity for us. For the time being, we have two grounds, Dehradun and also Greater Noida, we're considering both. We'll be playing on both the grounds," the ACB CEO said.
Pitch and conditions in Dehradun
Like every second pitch in the sub-continent, there's every chance that the track in Dehradun has a lot on offer for the spinners. Though both the sides did play a practice match yesterday, the late-night storm and a drizzle in the morning meant the Afghans can't take things for granted.
"We played here yesterday but as you know, this ground is new for us as well. We've played a few sessions here but as of now, we don't know how this pitch will play, as it rained yesterday. Hence we will only know how the conditions are after the first match is played tomorrow. According to me, the ground is thus the same for both the teams," the 30-year-old opined.
With spinners like Rashid Khan and Mujeeb Ur Rahman in Afghanistan's arsenal, a slow and spinning track would further improve their chances of winning the T20 series against a Bangladesh side, which has often failed to cross the mark in the shortest format of the game, and go into their first ever Test match with their heads held high.
"Asian batsmen can play spin well. However, the best thing about our spinners is that they are different and not easy to read. Our spinners like Rashid, Nabi, and Mujeeb are in form nowadays. Most of the tracks are spin-friendly in Asian conditions and thus, that plays to our advantage," Stanikzai said of his spinners' chances against the sub-continent side.
Though the skipper did accept the fact that 'they have some really tough challenges ahead of them' with the one-off Test against India and Asia Cup in sight, it's finally time for Afghanistan to scale the highest of mountains in international cricket.