Up until 2010, Afghanistan had not so much as competed in the group stage of a Men’s ICC World Cup. Eleven years on, participation is no longer the goal. Rashid Khan dreams of winning a World Cup and he sees no reason why they cannot make that a reality.
Eleven years old when Afghanistan made their debut at a major ICC event - the T20 World Cup 2010 in West Indies - Khan stepped onto the big stage for the first time at the 2016 edition in India.
He took 11 wickets at 16.63 for the tournament, finishing as the second-highest wicket-taker as Afghanistan reached the Super 10 stage. Two of those wickets came in the surprise result of the tournament when Afghanistan beat West Indies by six runs. They were the only team in the tournament to beat the eventual champions.
In the five years since Afghanistan have developed further in men’s cricket. In 2018, they played their first Test match, and in 2019 they enjoyed their first victory in the format.
“We have achieved a lot over the last 10 years as a team,” Khan, an ICC Live the Game ambassador, said. “Where we came from, where we had no facilities, we came from that stage and we’ve played lots of World Cups. It’s a dream of every country to be called a Test team and we’ve got that as well, we’ve played Test games. We have achieved a lot."
But it’s in white ball cricket where they have truly thrived.
Automatic qualifiers for the Super 12 stage of next month’s T20 World Cup, Afghanistan have two of the top five T20I bowlers in the world on the ICC rankings in Khan and Mujeeb ur Rahman, and the No.1 T20I all-rounder in Mohammad Nabi.
He won’t put a timeframe on it, but given the talent they have nurtured, he is confident Afghanistan can now dream of collecting silverware.
“We have that target in the future that one day we have the ability to win the World Cup, especially the T20 World Cup. That’s the focus of everyone back home.
“That’s the dream of everyone, that’s the target of every player and we are capable of achieving that target. We have that belief in our skills and ourselves, and I’m pretty sure we’re going to achieve that target in the future.”
The leg-spinner has already fulfilled things beyond his wildest imagination, being crowned the ICC Men's T20I Player of the Decade at the start of the year.
"Unbelievable," he said. "I never had that in the mind to be called ICC T20I Player of the Decade.
"To be called the Player of the Decade was more than special for me. It was a dream."
Having had his own eyes opened to where cricket could take him and his compatriots as a youngster, he harbours ambitions of doing the same for the next generation.
“To take Afghanistan cricket to the next level. As soon as we achieve that level, especially for the youngsters back home, it gives them lots of hopes, lots of future plans and gives them the kind of energy to come up and do the same for the cricket of Afghanistan.
“That will be the target to win the World Cup for the country.”
That next generation is already coming through. Khan himself is only 23 years old, but he’s among the more experienced members of Afghanistan’s T20WC squad with 95 T20Is to his name.
As an elder statesman in everything but age, he sees exciting things to come from 16-year-old wrist-spinner Noor Ahmad, who took seven wickets at the last ICC Men’s U19 Cricket World Cup but is still waiting for his first senior cap.
“He is someone who can deliver well in the future for Afghanistan.”
Among the current squad, there’s also 19-year-old Rahmanullah Gurbaz, who has sat as high as 14th on the T20I batting rankings, and 23-year-old Hazratullah Zazai, who has been as high as fifth.
“These two are really destructive batsmen. If they look after themselves well, then they have that kind of self-belief that they can play at any stage and they can play some massive, massive innings.”
While the spinner would not put a timeline himself on just when Afghanistan can collect that silverware they are dreaming of, it would be foolish to rule them out of going all the way this year.
After all, they have won seven of their past eight T20I series, with only a rained out tri-series final against Bangladesh denying them the chance to make that a perfect eight from eight.
They’ll have to step it up a gear to improve on their second stage performance from 2016 but there’s no doubt that is within reach.
Afghanistan begin their T20 World Cup campaign on 26 October in Sharjah.
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