We have eleven 'Dhoni' stories in our team, says Afghanistan spinner Sharafuddin Ashraf
As I wandered around the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium in Dehradun, soaking in the sun and the breathtaking view that the ground offers, I spotted a few of the Afghanistan players walk out and prepare themselves for the challenges that future has in store for them at their new 'home' ground.
The tranquility of the empty stadium, coupled with the odd 'leather hitting the bat' sound, allowed me the time and space to wonder how witnessing a cricket match, in as beautiful a country as Afghanistan, would feel.
While I was lost in those thoughts, my cell-phone buzzed and finally, I got the opportunity to find the answers to all the questions that were running around in my mind. How does it feel to play cricket in Afghanistan? What kind of struggles have the Afghan players gone through? Do all the Afghan cricketers have a nerve-wracking story to tell?
Afghanistan's left-arm spinner Sharafuddin Ashraf answered all of it. The 23-year-old was a part of the team which beat all odds to win the ICC World Cup Qualifiers and earn the right to play in the ODI World Cup next year in England.
Ashraf had featured in all the seven matches that the team played in the tournament and even scored the winning runs in Afghanistan's first win of the tournament, against West Indies, which came after three consecutive losses. The well-built youngster, pretty much like every Afghan player I saw, talked about everything cricket and how they all have had their fair share of struggles.
Q. What are the struggles that you all have had to face to reach this level and how is cricket perceived back home?
Cricket in Afghanistan is growing every day. Domestic cricket is becoming more competitive. In terms of our personal struggle, every player in the squad will have a story to tell. Just like India have MS Dhoni, whose story is known worldwide, we have eleven Dhoni-like stories in our team who have gone through a lot in life already. A film can be made on each one of them. There would be no international cricketer from Afghanistan who hasn't faced immense struggles in his career. Our seniors were up against steeper challenges than we are, as we still have this platform and such facilities for us today.
Q. How important is the Bangladesh T20 series for your team?
This series is very important for us, because the T20 World Cup is very close and our team ranking will be crucial going forward. Also, this will be the first time we face a top team after Zimbabwe. Bangladesh is a strong Asian team, it is very important for us to play against them. We have prepared extensively for these matches and I'm sure we'll play well.
Q. Any personal goals you've set for yourself?
First of all, with the likes of Rashid and Mujeeb in the team, it won't be easy to get into the playing XI. However, whenever I do get a chance, I hope to perform at the best of my ability.
Q. Every cricket fan in the world knows about Nabi, Rashid and Mujeeb, who do you think is the dark horse of your team?
Of course, we have certain players who haven't really had international exposure up until now. Yet, they have it in them to make a name for themselves on a global stage. There are seven to eight people in our team who are ready for every league. Shahzad and Najeeb Zadran, too, are very important for our chances in any game. Of course our spinners are world class, but our batsmen are also getting there.
Q. When do you think international cricket will return to Afghanistan?
It will take time. As you can see, we've played our cricket in foreign countries over the last two years. Right now, we're glad to have this opportunity in India. Meanwhile, developmental work is going on back home and the construction of cricket grounds is taking place in Afghanistan. Things will improve over time.
Q. How is the team preparing for the Test match against India and do you think Afghanistan can pose a challenge to the best Test team in the world?
India is a world class team. Our preparations for the Test are going on in full swing. It is extremely difficult to beat India in India. However, we have certain exceptional spinners in our ranks and it will be a good battle between them and the Indian batting line-up. Anything can happen in cricket, things can turn around in a couple of sessions. I'm sure if our spinners work well and we get a couple of partnerships on the board, we can make a match out of it. I'm sure India won't take us lightly as well.