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Latif backs 'mentally tough' Afghanistan

Afghanistan coach Rashid Latif believes the main reason for his side's consistent run of success in the ICC Intercontinental Cup is because of the strong self belief

Rashid Latif, Afghanistan coach
Afghanistan coach Rashid Latif believes the main reason for his side's consistent run of success in the ICC Intercontinental Cup is because of the strong self belief.

Afghanistan will hope to round off their consistent run with a title-winning performance in the final of the ICC Intercontinental Cup against Scotland.

The final will be played at the Dubai Sports City Stadium from 2 December-6 December.

"There are many reasons for Afghanistan's success. They had a good coach like Kabir Khan during the league stage. Most important thing is that they hate to lose. They are mentally very tough and have a lot of self belief. They play aggressive and positive cricket which is the strength of this Afghanistan team," said Latif.

Latif recently took over the role as the head coach of Afghanistan before the last group game against Kenya in the ICC Intercontinental Cup. Afghanistan won that game, but lost the ODI series to the hosts, Kenya.

"I started off as a (batting) coach from the Scotland game. That was an important series for me as a coach because we played for the first time in English conditions in the ICC Intercontinental Cup. Later we travelled to Kenya and won the ICC Intercontinental Cup game which was most important for me because it (Kenya) is also participating in upcoming ICC Cricket World Cup," said Latif.

The former Pakistan wicketkeeper believes he has not yet settled into his job. "I am not settled as yet because I am not satisfied with either mine or the team's performance. But I am very happy to see huge talent in Afghanistan."

Latif is hoping to use his vast experience as an international player in his role as coach. He wants to help hone his side's tactical skills during his stint as head coach.

"The team is mentally and physically very good. But they need some work on technical and tactical skills, so I am working on that. I am also focussing on building a reserve bench. The main focus is to teach them to play as one unit. I am telling them to help each other on and off the field. I am very happy to see that this team is gelling well."

The final against Scotland will be an acid test for both Latif and the team. Latif believes his side is ready for the challenge. Afghanistan beat Scotland in the league round, but Latif believes that result will have no bearing on the final.

"I don't think we have any advantage because of the league result. The final is a totally different game. But we will go into the final as favourites."

Latif had words of praise for the opponents, Scotland too. He believed the Scotland side will provide a stiff contest to his side in the final.

"Scotland is not new in international cricket. It has a very good record against tough opposition. It has a good batting line-up. The bowling too is well-balanced with good spinners and fast bowlers. The biggest advantage is that Scotland is a good fielding side."

Latif has studied his rivals well and has noted that Scotland is moving into a new era with fresh set of players.

"Scotland's progress is very good because they are trying some new faces in the team and they are doing well. Scotland has a very big advantage because England is supporting them in much the same way that Afghanistan players has support from Peshawar (Pakistan) that's why both teams have a very bright future," added Scotland.

Afghanistan uses Sharjah as a base for preparation for tours and important matches. Despite that, Latif believed there would be no advantage for Afghanistan even if the final was being played in Dubai.

"If we would have played in Sharjah then it would have been beneficial for us because we play so many matches there. The pitches are in good condition too. But in Dubai the pitches are not used by the local board or other club cricketers that's why square is very fresh and has variable bounce."

Afghanistan's main performers are fast bowler Hamid Hassan and batsman Mohd Shehzad who have topped the charts this year. Latif is hoping that the duo continue their consistent run.

"Both are amazing players. The most important point in that they are team players and play for the team. They do not focus on individual performances. As a team we do not depend on one or two players. I am depending on the entire squad including the coaching staff to win the title," opined Latif.

Latif also praised the leadership skills of skipper Nowroz Mangal who has just moved out of the role in the limited-overs games.

"I think he (Mangal) is a born leader. He has been doing well in the last three-four years. The players and management respect him a lot which is a key point for any player/captain."

Latif believes a win in the final will be a crowning glory for Afghanistan cricket.

"For the last 30 years this country has not had a cause for cheer because of the war. They have lost two generations to it. Cricket is now the only hope for Afghans. I have a lot of faith in cricket changing the landscape of Afghanistan."

In the end Latif reckoned it all boils down to self-belief. "In the ICC Intercontinental Cup we have played six matches and won five times against quality opposition. That's why I am very confident in the final but cricket is a funny game in which you can never predict."

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