Asia Cup 2022 – Assistant coach Afghanistan: we can only ‘learn to manage the pressure’ by playing against top teams regularly

Afghanistan’s assistant coach Raees Ahmadzai has pleaded with the ICC and other full members to play them often to help develop the quality, improved feel and ability to finish matches under pressure.
Since 2021, Afghanistan has only played in bilateral series against Ireland, the Netherlands, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. Their maiden tour to Australia, which was first postponed due to Covid-19 in 2020, was called off late last year.
Their last chances against other Full Members ahead of the Asian Cup were at the 2019 World Cup in England, where they nearly beat India and were well under control before slipping under pressure against Sri Lanka and Pakistan.
Ahmadzai spoke after Afghanistan’s 101-run loss in their last Super 4s Asia Cup match against India. After bringing Sri Lanka and Pakistan painfully close in their first two matches, they broke up spectacularly on Thursday night.
Afghanistan got Virat Kohli early reprieve and then saw him destroy its first T20I century, which also helped break its long drought without an international hundred. India put in 212 for 2, and it was game over for Afghanistan six overs in their pursuit as they slid back to 20 for 5.

“It’s important for a team like us to play against top-level teams,” Ahmadzai said. “It’s not easy. I can’t remember the last time we played against India or Pakistan. Playing one or two games against them in top level tournaments is not enough. It will help if we play them more often.

“Only then can our players learn to control their emotions, manage the pressure and learn from [the experience]. I think we deserve that. The way we started in the Asian Cup and made it difficult for the other teams, I think we did well. Our win over Sri Lanka was a one-sided win, we beat Bangladesh. But we have to improve the basics. Our players are realizing where we need to be more focused so we can finish the way we started.”

“When you play against the big names, the big stars, you always learn a lot. During the tournament we also spent some time with the Pakistani and Sri Lankan players. It was a good experience, something our players can learn [from] and apply for the World Cup.”

Raees Ahmadzai

Afghanistan had a tough draw and had to show up to Pakistan within a day of playing to face India in an emotionally and physically draining match they lost in the final. Ahmadzai revealed that the team had been “sleepless” after losing to Pakistan because of how much it took them mentally, after losing a match they thought was theirs.
Pakistan defended 130 on a small-sized ground and had been reduced to 118 for 9 with seven balls left. Then Naseem Shah threw two sixes from full toss against fast bowler Fazalhaq Farooqi as Pakistan won dramatically.

“To be honest, everyone panicked in that situation [when Pakistan were nine down]”, revealed Ahmadzai. But then we played back-to-back games and we did our best. As we looked at the wicket, I thought we could limit India to 170 or 180. But if you get a catch from a good player like Kohli, he won’t give you too many chances.”

Afghanistan can look back on great individual performances. They proved that their attack was more than just their spin superstars Rashid Khan and Mujeeb Ur Rahman. Their young fast bowling unit, led by Farooqi, Naveen-ul-Haq and Fareed Ahmed, showed that there was potential to work with.
In the batting division, Najibullah Zadran hit an unbeaten 17-ball 43 to beat Bangladesh, while Rahmanullah Gurbaz impressed when he was top scorer with 84 in their first Super 4s game against Sri Lanka. Ibrahim Zadran made scores of 42*, 40, 35 and 64*, demonstrating the kind of consistency their percussion has often been lacking lately.

For Ahmadzai, these were encouragement points on their way to the T20 World Cup in Australia. “I think we did really well, especially our young boys,” he said. “We learned a lot from our first two wins. The way we defended 130 against Pakistan was a good learning process for our players in the run-up to the World Cup.

“When you play against the big names, the big stars, you always learn a lot. We watched Kohli or KL hit Rahul. During the tournament we also spent some time with the Pakistani and Sri Lankan players. a good experience, something what our players can learn [from] and apply for the World Cup.

“Overall, the biggest positive was the way we started this tournament with two wins. The way we beat Bangladesh, the way we gave Pakistan a tough time. I’m happy to see our youngsters doing great. These are things we will continue.”

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