Afghanistan: An Invitation and an Affront

As Afghanistan embark on a historic first, they face challenges not unlike some of the more established teams in world cricket currently languishing at the bottom. The greatest challenge for Afghanistan’s cricket now is to scale beyond obvious present shortcomings and limited invitations on offer.

The buildup to expectations ahead of the first ever Test match for the country in their adopted nation for cricketing purposes, India, was enhanced by the attention to and phenomenal performance of their leading leg spinner, Rashid Khan, in India’s own version of Twenty20, the Indian Premier League. Unlike Netherlands and Scotland who haven’t yet been able to convert their opportunities into Test cricket membership, Afghanistan are the present beacon of hope for affiliates.

However, as exuberant a prospect as it is for a young nation take on the might of the Indian cricket team in their own backyard, the tempering fact remains that this was a moment seventeen years in the making. The sobering fact lies in that Bangladesh, Test cricket’s last entrants, have been slow and inconsistent in producing the results that would encourage the induction of greenhorns into the five-day format.

Furthermore, while the International Cricket Council’s efforts to globalize the game have been slow if not regressive at times, the discouraging situation developing with the state of affairs, particularly with regard to Zimbabwe and the West Indies, who have not only lost their competitive edge but also, it appears their will to sustain is alarming. Without adequate persuasion, impetus and influence, they have been allowed to remain on the precipice, in constant danger of falling off the radar almost entirely.

Afghanistan have been accorded a great service in that they now call India home and have a proxy host in the ‘big brother’ as they look for more exposure in order to scale higher. That said, Afghanistan cannot and should not expect much more from either the BCCI, any other cricket board or the ICC for that matter.

Almost slipped under the radar was the fact that Virat Kohli and the BCCI were willing to forgo the Indian captain’s participation in Afghanistan’s inaugural Test albeit for the worthwhile intent to better acclimatize and prepare for the tour of England that has not always worked the numbers in Kohli’s favour. A momentous occasion diluted by the absence of India’s most prolific batsman and enigmatic cricketer because priority was accorded in obvious allusion to a pecking order in world cricket, almost instantly undervaluing the significance of the moment.

In the past teams such as the West Indies have had to settle for a second string Indian team on at least a couple of occasions when the bulk of India’s cricketers were given time off after the extremely demanding Indian Premier League and in preparation for more rigourous tours and challenges ahead. With the ICC not always effective in ensuring that competitions were held at full strength, teams have tended to languish for want of inspiration, learning first hand and the bar to push to raise their own standards while their boards pick up the cheques for participation and broadcasting in these low profile series.

It is a global phenomenon, not restricted to India alone, that the ICC must look to address in the interest of adding both, teams and quality to competition, if Test cricket is to sustain itself. At the moment, the invitation reads, “Welcome to the big leagues” in bold letters, almost obfuscating the caution in fine print: “Don’t expect any freebies from this point on”.