A couple of decades ago cricket did not exist to all intents in Afghanistan, but the war-ravaged nation is making big strides in the game right now. Cricket has introduced a rare feeling of joy in the fractured country, and it might not be long before Afghanistan is able to challenge the powerhouses of the game. And now their head coach Lalchand Rajput is preparing the players so that they can play Test cricket.

After defeating the World T20 champions in the World T20,  Afghanistan traveled to Europe where they beat Scotland 1-0 before drawing the five-match ODI series against Ireland 2-2. The tour ended on a brilliant note after they defeated fellow associates Netherlands by an innings and 36 runs.

“These boys have talent, but they need exposure to be ready for Test cricket,” Rajput told Times of India on Thursday (August 5). “I asked the players: ‘Do you want to keep playing the associates or do you want to play teams of a higher level?’ They all said they wanted to play the top sides. I told them that nothing will come easy to them, and they’ve to be prepared to work hard, especially on their fitness and fielding. I’ve made it mandatory that every player must take at least 50 catches in the nets,” he explained.

On the players’ attitude, Rajput said:”The players are respectful to the coach, keen to learn, and desperate to do well. They believe in fighting till the last ball, which can perhaps be attributed to their tough (war-torn) background,” Rajput complimented. “I’ve tried to infuse self-belief in them by telling them that if you can beat the Twenty20 world champ, you can beat anyone.”

In March next year, Afghanistan will play against Ireland, their biggest competitors in their pursuit of a Test status, in Noida, their `adopted’ home.

“I want a month-long camp in Noida, and I’m also planning to organise a few games for them in Mumbai. We’re confident about beating Ireland.

“Since we’re playing at home, we can make a turning track which suits our strength. In Rashid Khan (leg-spinner), Zahir Khan (chinaman bowler), and Mohammad Nabi, we have a good spin attack,” Rajput pointed out.

The winner of this game will play the 10th-ranked Test nation (currently Zimbabwe) in a four-Test ‘ICC Test Challenge’ in 2018. If the Intercontinental Cup winner clinches the ICC Test Challenge, then it will become the 11th Test nation until 2022.

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