Rashid Khan, the new Afghanistan captain, has identified fitness and preparation as the two most important areas where work is needed, following Afghanistan’s performance at the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup 2019.
Afghanistan finished their campaign winless, losing all nine of their matches in the round-robin. They came close to defeating India and Pakistan, but couldn’t sustain their excellence and ended up conceding those games.
The performance was a bit of a surprise, given how well they had competed in last year’s 50-over Asia Cup, where they beat Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, came close to beating Pakistan, and held India to a tie.
But it was a reminder of the level at which teams operate at an event such as the World Cup, which is the pinnacle of the sport, and Rashid said that they need to be more prepared, game-wise as well as mentally, to deal with such situations in the future.
“From here, we have to take steps,” Rashid told ESPNcricinfo. “We have seen the World Cup, we have seen the oppositions and what should be the proper preparation for them, and we have to be very strong mentally. We have to be fully fit for such competitions and we have to be well-prepared. We are not playing with Associate teams right now, we are playing with the Full Members, so we have to be well-planned and prepared.
“The most important thing is fitness, we have to be very fit. These are the things we need to improve on in upcoming years to be a better side, a side that can beat any team. We have the talent, we have the skills. We just need to bring improvement in that.”
Rashid also said that players coming into international cricket should be fully prepared skill-wise, adding that international players should largely concentrate on developing the mental aspect of their game.
“You need to have worked on your skills, not that when you come to the national side you start working on it,” Rashid said. “Once you come to the national side, you have to work on the mental aspect [more]. And being a youngster, you should always believe in yourself and work hard. Then you can achieve anything.”
Rashid recognised that the next World Cup, in 2023 in India, would be just as big of a challenge and said that being aware of what they need to bring to the table against top-flight opposition would be an important step towards improving Afghanistan's performance next time around.
But the next World Cup is four years away. In the more immediate future, Afghanistan have the ICC T20 World Cup, which takes place in Australia next year, to look forward to. “That [2023 World Cup] is something that is a very big challenge for us. As I said, we have the skills and talent, but we need to improve. We need to know how to play against the big teams and what should be the proper preparation against them,” Rashid said.
“As we saw, we were struggling in this World Cup. [But] I think the 2023 World Cup, it's a little bit far. The focus and target right now is the T20 World Cup in Australia. We will show how we are better, and show how we can do better compared to the last World Cup. We just need to keep improving and bringing down the number of mistakes we have done in the past. In T20s, especially, we have the ability and we have the best team [that we can have].
“And for 2023, we should know that from hereon, there should be proper preparation for 50 overs. The more we play against the top teams, the better we will be. So looking forward to more games and series with the big teams."
Rashid was named captain for all three formats in the aftermath of the World Cup. While he was already the captain for the shortest format, his appointment ended the stints of Gulbadin Naib, who was himself appointed ODI captain just before the World Cup, and Rahmat Shah, who never officially led them in a Test match. But Rashid said he wasn’t caught off guard by his appointment.
“I wasn't quite surprised. I was already the vice-captain, which means you are the upcoming captain. Mentally, I was ready for it,” he said. “Yes, it happened very quickly, but when it comes to the national team, when it comes to the country, you always have to be ready to lead. I'll try my best to lead as well as possible.”
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