Nobody knows the Afghanistan cricket team better than Andy Moles. He has coached the side from 2014 to 2015 – a time when Afghanistan made its maiden World Cup appearance – and later, has worked with the U-19 and U-23 teams.
In his long stint with the Afghanistan Cricket Board, the 58-year-old Moles has also witnessed the game evolve in the war-ravaged country and he is excited to see so many youngsters taking up cricket seriously.
In his new role as the chief selector and director of cricket, Moles, is aiming to provide maximum exposure to the young cricketers of Afghanistan so that the transition is smooth. He also believes that Afghanistan should play at least two Test matches in a series to get used to the new format.
Speaking to Sportstar at the Ekana Stadium, Moles explained why it is important to give more opportunities to the players ‘below the national side’.
Q) You have been associated with Afghanistan for a long time. How much do you think has the team progressed over the years?
A) The progress is there for everyone to see. We have benefited from a group of quality senior players who have done really well for the last eight-nine years to bring all the way to where we are now. Challenge now is to keep that level of performance and it’s obviously going to be difficult because we are now playing the top teams in the world. Experience for all the players is a key for me.
If you break down the formats, you will see, in T20 cricket, we are a dangerous team. We have got exceptional spinners; we have got two spinners who are No.1 or 2 in the world, we have got top all-rounder in Mohammad Nabi and you would say, our batting is a bit of inconsistent but its successful and dynamic enough. So, in T20s, we are a very dangerous team.
But things don’t look too bright in ODIs. Despite much hype, the side had a disastrous campaign in the World Cup. How would you summarise the performance?
In ODIs, we had a disappointing World Cup, and we just lost the series against the West Indies, but they were a very strong and experienced one-side and as we look forward to the future, we don’t play too much 50-over game because the focus is on T20s ahead of Asia Cup and the T20 World Cup in Australia, so we need to play a lot of A team cricket to teach the players the finer skills of ODI cricket — rotating strike, batting for a period of time, building partnerships, taking wickets at the right time — and all the basics, we need to improve them.
We need to work on that group of players, so when we do restart our 50-over programme in a year’s time, we will have some experienced players who have learned a lot.
What are you thoughts on the Test format? It’s been a couple of years since Afghanistan attained Test status, and has so far played only four Tests…
In Tests, in the first game against India, we did not play well at all, but since then, we managed to beat Ireland but we enjoyed the magnificent Test victory against Bangladesh. Against the West Indies, we are playing in conditions where spin will be important and we have got really good spin attack. So, we believe we can be competitive. But the West Indies won’t lie down, so we need to make sure we put them under pressure.
These guys are the future and in my new role as the director of cricket, I am trying to give the players opportunity outside the national side – to our A team and U-23 cricketers – to play as much competitive quality cricket in different conditions around the world so that we can learn to adapt to the conditions, understand to be better thinkers when under pressure. All put together, in the next two years, the side will improve.
For a team which focuses more on the shorter formats of the game, how challenging does it get to cope with the longer format?
It’s very important because you learn your skills in this format. In ODI cricket, we do not bat for long enough period, so if we do well here, that will obviously help. It is an issue because at the moment, we always play one Test match at a time.
Afghanistan is currently playing a Test match against West Indies in Lucknow. – AFP
Moving forward, it will be beneficial for us to play the West Indies in two Test matches, to play Bangladesh in two Tests, so that our players don’t just get two innings. These guys play regular Test cricket, but we only play one or two Tests in a year, if we get only four innings a year, then how can the players learn?
Then what’s the way forward? What are the efforts that need to be taken to ensure that the players get accustomed to Tests?
So, we need, if possible, more exposure in terms of competitive fixtures. If we can get that, then we can give our players opportunity to play not only in these conditions, but also (make) them go to England, Australia, New Zealand, West Indies and learn how to play in different conditions. It’s going to take time. We are not going to be able to come across as a great Test-playing nation overnight, we need to develop our seam bowling attack.
All that will happen over the time and we need to have patience. Patience is something that is not always plenty in supply. We need to have patience and need to support the players. The World Cup — for example — comes in four years. Look at England. Four years ago (in 2015), they had a disastrous World Cup. They changed the structure, the team, the captain and played a new brand of cricket.
It took four years of learning, understanding and reviewing to get to where they were — winning the World Cup in 2019. We cannot be expected to win every Test match, if we just play one or two games. We need to play more games, but we need to have patience from our supporters back home, from the players themselves, from the administrators. Even I need to show patience because we have got exceptional talent in our country, it just needs to be moulded and it needs an opportunity to grow.
How do you plan to strike a balance between all the three formats?
Lance Klusener is the new head coach and he will be involved in formalising the strategy to get the national side better. He is already doing that. He is making plans to work on a certain things. It’s just been a month since he has been on board. We need to give him time to have a look at the strength and weaknesses of the players.
At the end of the day, him and Rashid (Khan) are in-charge of the side. I am the chief selector and the director of cricket, and I am here to help them. We have huge potential, but it can only come good with execution.
Andy Moles presents the man of the match trophy to Afghanistan U-19 player Abdul Rahman Rehmani after the team’s third One-dayer against India U-19 at the Ekana Stadium. – SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT
We need to get competitive fixtures, which we will work on. Thankfully, it looks like we are being received well by teams, especially in Asia, and they want to give us opportunities because they want to play against our quality players as well, which is exciting. For the future development, we need to give exposure to the players below the national side.
The World Cup was a disaster for Afghanistan as there were issues both on and off the field. How challenging was to bring the team back together after the tournament?
That’s not my role as the chief selector. My role is to look at the players that are available, learn and speak to the people and review what happened in the World Cup. In the last ODI squad, we made seven changes. We brought new personnel on board. They are all still learning. The new players haven’t played enough of quality cricket.
West Indies side, which we played here, was of high quality. They were a good side and they adapted to the conditions, batting and bowling very well. We did not adapt to the conditions well and play accordingly. That’s where we are looking to improve.
I am sure, under the leadership of Lance and the captain’s very positive leadership on the field, we can improve. Players need to be kept under pressure for their performance, so therefore, we need players performing below the national side and also in the national side to make sure the players work hard.
Afghanistan will be travelling to Australia for a Test match. There is a buzz that it could be a Pink-ball Test. Your thoughts?
I know we are going to play a Test match in Australia but I don’t know whether it will be played in red ball, pink ball, white ball… I have no idea. We are grateful for the opportunity to be exposed against Australia. It is going to be an unbelievable challenge. We are focusing immediately on T20 cricket and I know, Lance is already working on improving the skills of our players, who can increase our scoring options against quick bowling ahead of going to Australia for the T20 World Cup.
That will all be evolved. We will have camps in Dubai or wherever, where he will be working specifically on improving the technical side of our batters to score runs and rotate strike against quick bowlers. If they do that in T20s, those skills can be brought to Test cricket.
Over the last few years, Afghanistan has had its bases in Greater Noida, Dehradun and now Lucknow. How much of a challenge is it for the players to adapt to different conditions?
It is not challenging. The facilities in Dehradun were amazing. They looked after us really, really well but the problem was the stadium was an hour and a half away from the hotel. Not just from our point of view, the oppositions too objected to that.
We are very fortunate that BCCI allowed us to use this beautiful ground in Lucknow as our home ground. The hotels are excellent, it’s just a 15-minute journey to the ground. The facilities are excellent here. The people of Dehradun did a great job. We would like to acknowledge them.
What we have benefited from this move is the shorter journey to travel. If you were spending an hour and a half in the morning and an hour and a half in the evening just for travelling, the day becomes really long and it gets tough for the players to look after the body. We are happy to be using this ground and we can be here for many years.
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