In the 2014 Under-19 World Cup, a 17-year old Usman Ghani was part of the Afghanistan squad which derailed Australia and Sri Lanka to reach the Quarter-finals for the first time. The attacking opening batsman is now 21 and an important member of the senior team’s limited-overs’ set up. Unfortunately, Ghani narrowly missed out on a spot in Afghanistan’s first ever Test squad, which will take on India in the inaugural Test match in Bengaluru from June 14, but currently, he is in Dehradun with the T20I squad for the three-match series against Bangladesh.
Recently, in an exclusive chat with the author, Ghani spoke about how the Asghar Stanikzaiis’ boys are gearing up for the red ball challenge at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium against the best Test team in the world.
As an insider, the youngster believes their spin-attack, which has a perfect blend of wrist-spin and finger-spin, will pose a serious threat for the Indian batting. Remember, the Afghans have picked four specialist spinners — leggie Rashid Khan, mystery spin of Mujeeb Ur Rahman, left-arm orthodox Amir Hamza, who is the highest wicket-taker in the recent domestic First-Class competition and the left-arm wrist-spinner Zahir Khan — in their Test squad. There is also Mohammed Navi, who is handy part-time off-spinner. Hence, it won’t be an exaggeration if we say that Afghanistan have a world-class spin-attack.
However, like everyone else, Ghani pins a bulk of his hope on the Rashid-Mujeeb pair.
“In IPL, the world has seen what Rashid [21 wickets in 17 matches] and Mujeeb [14 wickets in 11 matches] are capable of. Yes, I understand that Test cricket will be a different ball game altogether but the experience of bowling against all the Indian batsmen in the IPL will be crucial for both of them. So, easy nehi hoga unke liye [For Indian batsmen, it won’t be a cakewalk],” says Ghani on the sidelines of his team’s practice session at on Saturday [June 2] at the Rajiv Gandhi International Cricket Stadium.
India, meanwhile, will be without their best batsman and regular skipper Virat Kohli in that game. But it seems his absence hardly has any effect in Afghan gamelans.
“Irrespective of whether Virat plays or not, it won’t matter for our bowlers, inshallah,” Ghani mentioned before adding, “We are a good bowling side and we can trouble any batting line-up in the world. But yes, it would have been great if he had played in this historic game. But, uski marji hai [it’s his wish].”
“We can go to the semi-finals of World Cup”
In the recent ICC World Cup Qualifiers in Zimbabwe, after losing initial few matches Afghanistan rose from the Ashes to qualify for next year’s mega event in England. And now the Aghan camp believes they can be the surprise package of the tournament. In fact, according to Ghani, the Afghans have the firepower to reach the last four stage, like its Under-19 team, which, raising many eyebrows, reached the semi-final of the last Youth World Cup in New Zealand earlier this year.
“We are very proud [for the qualification],” says the soft-spoken youngster, “At one of point time, the equation seemed very tough for us to qualify. But thanks to Allah, we fought back and achieved our long-term goal of securing our place in the 2019 World Cup.”
“We stay together, we all support each other, enjoy each other’s performance. The juniors respect the seniors and always try to learn from them. Alos, seniors like Asgar, Nabi, Rashid, Shehzad and others are always helping youngsters like me, Mujeeb and rest of the boys. That’s why as a team, we are constantly improving. So, inshallah, we will definitely try and do well and reach the semi-finals. We believe it is very much possible as currently we have the strength to beat any team in the world. Actually hum jo bhi karte hai, tough karte hai [Whatever we do, we do our best],” Ghani explained before heading for a net session.
Well, irrespective of whether they the will reach the semis or not, but purely because of the perfect blend of their quality, confidence, as well as the never die attitude, Afghanistan will certainly be the team to watch out for in England next year.