Afghanistan ready to play Tests – ACB chief executive

Afghanistan Cricket Board CEO Shafiq Stanikzai has presented an argument in favor of the proposal for two-tier Test cricket, saying the side deserves the opportunity to play Tests through their solid performances in the ICC’s Intercontinental Cup first-class multi-day competition for Associates.

“We think that we are ready to play Test cricket and we have proven that,” Stanikzai told ESPNcricinfo in a recent interview. “Since we entered into the Intercontinental Cup arena, we were beaten only once. That was in the [2013] Intercontinental Cup final where we got beaten by Ireland but that’s the only loss we have in a four-day game or multi-day game.”

Afghanistan are currently in second place behind Ireland on the 2015-17 Intercontinental Cup table after four rounds, with three wins and a rain-marred draw against Scotland. Afghanistan’s overall record in the first-class competition is outstanding with 14 wins, one loss and four draws. Right from their debut in the competition – a high-scoring draw in which they claimed first-innings points against a Zimbabwe XI in 2009 – they have made an effort to demonstrate their versatility rather than be pigeonholed as a limited-overs specialist outfit.

Nowhere was that more evident than in their victory against a then elite Canada outfit in 2010, who at the time were preparing to play their third successive ICC World Cup. Set a target of 494 to win in the fourth innings, Afghanistan recorded the ninth-best successful chase in first-class cricket history spearheaded by Mohammad Shahzad’s unbeaten 214. That win propelled them to a maiden Intercontinental Cup title later that year with a win over Scotland in the final. That victory also broke Ireland’s streak of three successive titles.

Overall, Afghanistan have scored 400 or more in an innings six times and batted for more than 100 overs in an innings on 11 occasions in the Intercontinental Cup, showing their versatility. They have also shown adaptability to foreign conditions, notching victories in Scotland, Kenya, Canada, Namibia and twice in the Netherlands.

Three of Afghanistan’s last six Intercontinental Cup wins have come by an innings margin, while the other three were by margins of ten wickets, eight wickets and 201 runs. Stanikzai says there is not much more for them to prove against Associate-level competition in multi-day cricket and they are eager for a chance to show their skills in a Test scenario.

“We have a real good package for every single format of the game,” he said. “If you have a look at the Afghanistan cricket team, we have almost a different squad for every single format. We have T20 specialists, we have ODI specialists, we have multi-day players, specialists not just in batting but in bowling as well. So we are carrying a different bunch of players in every single format we are playing.”

Stanikzai’s point is backed up by the fact that core players from their limited-overs squad – bowlers Hamid Hassan, Shapoor Zadran and Rashid Khan, and batsmen Noor Ali Zadran, Javed Ahmadi, Najibullah Zadran and Gulbadin Naib – were all absent from Afghanistan’s starting XI in their most recent Intercontinental Cup win over Netherlands. Afghanistan also has a domestic four-day competition since 2014, which features teams from five regions, although this has not yet been assigned first-class status.

“It means the talent is huge in Afghanistan and things have shaped up quite nicely and we have improved quite rapidly in the cricketing world,” Stanikzai said. “Afghanistan is a team that is ready to play Test cricket. We are just looking forward for this [two-tier] proposal to get passed by the ICC board. My stance and Afghanistan Cricket Board’s stance is quite clear that we need more opportunities.”

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