Cricket in Afghanistan has been on the rise for years now. From budding cricketers first learning the sport in the refugee camps along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border to a professional team making an appearance in the ICC World T20, cricket has come a long way in the war-torn nation.
Gaining Test status along with Ireland, and confirming their maiden Test fixture against India at Bengaluru later this year would be a defining chapter in the fairytale that the Afghan national cricket team has charted.
The news of their maiden fixture did create waves both among cricket fans as well as pundits, with a number of warm wishes being spread on the social media and dozens of articles being written in various publications.
If there is one individual who is genuinely happy in the development, it happens to be someone who not only has served as a coach of the national cricket team for a short period, but has also seen everyday life as well as the problems faced in the nation from close quarters. We are of course, talking about former Australian cricketer Dean Jones.
"So stoked. I'm glad you brought that up. Geez, I'm so stoked you know, to hear guys like Rashid Khan, (Mohammad) Nabi, young Zahir (Khan) and all these guys getting a chance to play; 17 years ago, they weren't doing anything. Nobody even knew of cricket back in Kabul that time," said smiling Jones in an exclusive interaction with Firstpost.
Jones, a veteran of 52 Tests and 164 ODIs for Australia, was in Afghanistan in the month of September for a commentary stint in a local T20 tournament. After a terror attack at one of the venues right in the middle of a match, several players and officials were promptly recalled. Jones however, was not one to back out of his commitment, and decided to stay on.
— Dean Jones (@ProfDeano) September 22, 2017
An image of him wearing ethnic Afghan attire and posing in front of cheering locals at the venue in Kabul after the attack was widely praised, and was symbolic of his resilience. His association with Afghan cricket did not end there though, as he was appointed the interim coach of the senior men's national team after the stepping down of Lalchand Rajput, a position he held till the full-time appointment of Trinidadian Phil Simmons.
As far as previewing the historic clash at the M Chinnaswamy is concerned, Jones believes that the team is better-equipped for their Test debut than teams such as Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and even New Zealand (couldn't resist taking a jibe at the trans-tasman rivals) were.
"They are better prepared than Sri Lanka, New Zealand or Bangladesh were when they first stepped into Test cricket. They are a better team than those teams back then.
"They've got some superstars. They could improve a bit in their batting, but all in all, they're going to put up a good show here, don't worry. They won't be a push over, no way," quipped Jones, who in the same interaction described India captain and batting superstar Virat Kohli as his favourite cricketer.
While Bangladesh made their Test debut in 2000, it took them more than a decade before they could finally start giving some of the higher-ranked teams in world cricket a proper fight on a more consistent basis. Jones, however, reckons, that Afghanistan could chart that rise a lot faster.
"Probably another three or four (years before Afghanistan start giving top-ranked sides a proper fight). See the great thing is that they've got youth. See Rashid is 20-21. Zahir's 20. And they've got a couple of young quicks coming through. Just could improve their batting," said Jones before signing off.