A change of guard in Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover means a lot for the national cricket team’s head coach Lance Klusener, who is in Durban while a bulk of his men are trying to get some practice back home ahead of the T20 World Cup that begins October 17 in the UAE and Oman.
In normal circumstances, the South African all-rounder would now have been at the venue with his team. “We were planning at least a month’s camp (in the UAE) but we are still waiting for visas, so that’s not going to happen. We will try to get there as soon as we can,” Klusener told AFP.
Coaching the central Asian country was never an easy task for 50-year-old Klusener, since he took the charge two years back. “I came back from Kabul a couple of days before we shut down. I think it (the Taliban takeover) was always going to happen but the speed of it took everyone off guard. That’s how countries work. There’s nothing we can do as sports people except work with it or work around it,” he said.
To compound his problems, a series against Pakistan was recently postponed and the country’s professional T20 tournament stands cancelled. Besides, there has been a change at the top with Naseeb Zadran Khan being appointed as the Afghanistan Cricket Board’s new chief executive officer.
The country’s reputation in the sporting world took a beating when the new regime withdrew the women’s cricket team.
Klusener is optimistic though. “We had a very good training camp for about two-and-a-half weeks. The pitches were pretty good for that time of year. The weather is hugely extreme. I was there in mid-winter once when those pitches were knee-deep in snow.”
The all-rounder recognises the fact that it is a big change for the country and its sportsmen, but he exuded confidence in Taliban’s continued support. “It’s a huge, huge change for the country, for the people. It’s going to take a little bit of time for everyone to find their feet. The Taliban are all for promoting and supporting cricket. By all accounts they’re very happy for us to continue and have been extremely supportive,” he said.
On the challenges of training a new and inexperienced team, Klusener said, “We’re lucky that quite a few of our guys play in T20 leagues in various places.” The South African said their three top players – Rashid Khan, Mujeeb Ur Rahman and Mohammad Nabi (all spinners) – make Afghanistan’s spin attack the best in the world. “Unfortunately we always play away from home. Throw COVID into it and it is a logistical battle. The last time we played was against Zimbabwe (in Abu Dhabi) in March,” he said.
Rashid Khan, Mujeeb Ur Rahman and Mohammad Nabi are currently playing the IPL in the UAE.
Klusener admitted that their biggest challenge is to get enough runs on the board. “That’s been our focus, working on making sure that if we bat first we get something competitive,” he said.
The Afghan cricket team recently had a change of guard. Rashid Khan resigned apparently because he was not consulted about selection. Nabi has taken over the mantle for now.
Klusener isn’t worried about Nabi’s elevation because he thinks the two players (Nabi and Rashid) get along well.
Afghanistan play their first match of the T20 World Cup on October 25.
Klusener has played 49 Tests and 171 ODIs for South Africa.