Afghanistan takes on Namibia in the final match of the third round of the four-day first-class ICC Intercontinental Cup on Sunday at the Greater Noida Cricket Stadium on the outskirts of Delhi with a chance to leapfrog its way from fifth to third. However, to make this happen, the former champion will have to collect the 20 points maximum points which are on offer.
Afghanistan is the clear favourite against Namibia after its recent impressive showing at the ICC World Twenty20 India 2016 where it was the only team in the tournament to beat eventual champion the West Indies.
Asghar Stanikzai’s side progressed from the first round to the Super 10 stage, and after fully stretching Sri Lanka, South Africa and England, it ended on a high with victory against Darren Sammy’s men in Nagpur.
Revealing the driving force behind these outstanding performances at the global stage, the captain said: “Passion for this great game, commitment, unity, hard work, courage and the pride of playing for our country, drives us.
“Now we are representing our country on the international stage, the players are very committed and eager to achieve a clear goal to help their team progress to the elite level, to play and beat big names at the highest level.
“We have struggled a lot to achieve our current status, now we will try to maintain it and try to achieve Test status.”
Coach Inzamam-ul-Haq said his side will aim to build on its ICC World Twenty20 India 2016 success. “It has been a very successful event for us even though we won just one match. But the way the side played throughout the competition against more experienced and seasoned players is commendable.
“We should have won more than one match, but success in the last match against eventual champion West Indies is something we will like to take into the ICC Intercontinental Cup. The win against the West Indies has given us tremendous confidence and faith that we can win against more formidable opponents.
“Without being over-confident and complacent, we need to build up on that success and continue to play with a no-fear approach. We shouldn’t be scared of losing matches as this will only keep us away from success. If the approach is positive and the boys continue to back their natural aggressive style of play, then they will not only be successful in this competition but in future as well.”
Inzamam said his players had a reputation of being T20 specialists because the world has not seen them play in the longer version of the game. “I agree that the Afghanistan players have earned reputation of being quality twenty20 players, but I have seen them play in the longer version and I can tell you they are equally good.
“The more Afghanistan players will play against bigger nations and the more their four-day matches are live-streamed or broadcast, I am sure the pundits will start believing that we have an all-round side, which is not only capable of playing all the formats but also giving a few sides a run for their money.
“The Afghanistan players have been playing Twenty20 cricket for the past couple of months and it will be a good test of their skills and temperament as they will have to shift gears and adapt to the requirements of four-day cricket. This is all part of the learning curve and I am sure these opportunities will only make them a better side.”
Afghanistan is currently in fifth place in the Intercontinental Cup standings, unbeaten on 21 points, gained from two outings, the first of which was a drawn match against Scotland, and the second was a comprehensive 201 run win against PNG in November last year.
Namibia meanwhile is in seventh place, just a place above bottom placed UAE, with one win and one loss to its credit, the win coming against Hong Kong, last May, while the loss was a heavy one, by an innings an innings and 107 runs to Ireland last October.
Ireland leads the table, undefeated, with a maximum 60 points from wins against UAE, Namibia and PNG, after three rounds, 14 ahead of second- placed Netherlands. Hong Kong is in third on 30 points, while Scotland is in fourth on 23 points.
The final third-round match is scheduled to be played at the Greater Noida Cricket Stadium, the new home of cricket for Afghanistan after a recently signed agreement between the Indian and Afghanistan Cricket boards.
Inzamam said the Greater Noida Cricket Stadium wicket was likely to suit spinners. “I think the spinners will enjoy bowling on this track. So, I look forward to seeing not only some solid performances by the slow bowlers but also by the batters because they will have to be smart, intelligent and selective with their stroke-selection.”
Plenty at stake for all eight teams participating in the ICC Intercontinental Cup, as the winners stand to qualify for the ICC Test Challenge, which will be played against the 10th-ranked Test side on a home and away basis in 2018.
The ICC Intercontinental Cup winner will qualify for the ICC Test Challenge and will secure Test status until the next ICC Test Challenge, which will take place in 2022. Inzamam said his team was ready to take that leap.
“The ICC Intercontinental Cup is a stepping stone for Test cricket and if Afghanistan wins the tournament as well as the ICC Test Challenge, then it has all the right to play Test cricket. But we are not thinking too much about this as want to take one step at a time, without putting ourselves under unnecessary pressure.”
NAMIBIA: Stephen Baard (capt), Sarel Burger, Christopher Coombe, Gerhard Erasmus, Pikky Ya France, Zane Green, Zhivago Groenewald, Jean-Pierre Kotze, Lohan Louwrens, Tangeni Lungameni, Bernard Scholtz, Nicolaas Scholtz, JJ Smit, Gerrie Snyman
AFGHANISTAN: Asghar Stanikzai (captain), Afsar Zazai, Dawlat Zadran, Hashmatullah Shahidi, Javed Ahmadi, Mohammad Nabi, Mohammad Shahzad, Nasir Jamal, Noor Ali Zadran, Rahmat Shah, Rashid Khan, Samiullah Shinwari, Yameen Ahmadzai, Zahir Khan
Match Referee: Graeme La Brooy
Umpires: Ahmed Shah Pakteen, Sharfuddoula Ibne Shahid Saikat, Ahmed Shah Durrani