Thu | Aug 17, 2017

Tony Becca | Watch out, West Indies

Published:Sunday | May 28, 2017 | 5:00 AM
Phil Simmons, former West Indies head coach and current Technical Consultant for the Afghanistan cricket team.

The Afghans are in the West Indies for what is considered a series to really test their strength in preparation for their ascendancy to Test cricket and, probably, for the much-proposed play-off involving themselves and Ireland for a place in cricket's big league.

While it is testing time for Afghanistan, it is a time of reflection for the West Indies, a time to reason out what has happened to them in the past 20 years or so that they have got to the stage where they are hosting a match like this, that they, once the kings in all styles of the game, are licking their wounds and hosting lowly Afghanistan, while the Champions Trophy is being played in England.

For Afghanistan, however, this is a big moment, and it should be a tough, testing time for them.

Although everything suggest that it should be a walkover for the West Indies, and that the three T20 and three ODI matches should be easy pickings for the past champions, it may not be so, especially remembering Afghanistan's stunning six-wicket victory during last year's World T20 Championship and their rise among the associates over the past few years.

As it stands, it is a dogfight between Ireland and Afghanistan to move on.

For those who do not know, Ireland, the front runners for so long; the outsiders who produced players like Eoin Morgan, William Porterfield, Paul Stirling, the O'Brien brothers, Boyd Rankin, George Dockrell, and Tim Murtagh, who shot down the likes of England and Pakistan in World Cup tournaments in the past, while screaming about elevation have suddenly found the going pretty rough.

 

SLIDING BACKWARDS

 

Apart from two like Morgan and Rankin, who have switched to England, Ireland have been parading almost the same players over the years, and they have, at least for the past five years or so, been marking time, or rather, sliding backwards.

In that time, Ireland, have lost, not only to Afghanistan, but also to teams like Papua, New Guinea; the UAE; Hong Kong; the Netherlands; Scotland and Oman and all the full-member teams they have hosted at home.

In the past year, Ireland have lost nine times to Afghanistan, in T20, One-day matches, and longer games - nine successive times, including a 10-wicket loss in the Desert T20. That spell also included a 3-0 loss in the Greater Noida, a 2-3 loss in a One-day series, and also a stunning defeat by an innings and 172 runs in the Intercontinental Cup.

While Ireland have been diving since their shocking defeat of Pakistan at Sabina Park in World Cup 2007, Afghanistan have been forging ahead, to the point that they are now ahead of Ireland, and the Netherlands in the rankings of the associate members.

 

Notable victories

 

Afghanistan also boast victories over Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka, New Zealand, Australia, and top of that, they possess some good cricketers, at least for the T20 and ODI versions of the game.

In Asghar Stanikzai, Noor Ali Zadran, Samiullah Shenwari, and Mohammad Shahzad, they have some good batsmen; in Mirwais Ashraf, they have a good all-rounder. In Shapoor Zadran, Hanid Hassan, Yamin Ahmadzai, and Dawlat Zadran, they possess some good fast bowlers; and in Mohammad Nabi and 18-year-old Rashid Khan, they have two good spin bowlers.

For the West Indies, however, they should be in the role of teachers, and for Afghanistan, they should be nothing but students, willing and eager to learn from the past masters.

The West Indies have put together a formidable-looking team for the occasion, a team which includes Marlon Samuels, Kieron Powell, Sunil Narine, Samuel Badree, and Carlos Brathwaite, star boys of the exciting version of the game, as well as Ervin Lewis and Jason Mohammad, two of those with a recent reputation of being among the West Indies' most dazzling players.

They will be up against a team of dreamers, a team coached by former West Indies player and ex coach Phil Simmons, and a man who will be out to prove a point after his short stint with the West Indies as coach ended on a sour note.

On top of that, the West Indies cricket operations manager, the former West Indies batsman, Roland Holder, has said that "this series promises to be compelling", and he may be right. The chairman of Afghanistan, Atif Mashal, said, only two months ago, "I want to see Afghanistan at number five in the world soon."