Asghar Afghan is to Afghanistan what Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi is to India. Last week, Asghar, a middle-order batsman who occasionally bowls, captained Afghanistan to their first ever Test win, by seven wickets against Ireland, in Dehradun, in only the second Test that the war-ravaged country played. They had lost their first Test to India in Hyderabad last year. Compared with Afghanistan, India had to wait for almost 36 years and 24 matches to register their maiden win, under Pataudi’s captaincy and against New Zealand in Dunedin in February 1968.
In recent times, Asghar, 31, has spent a lot of time in India for Afghanistan’s camps and matches and has fallen in love with India, their ‘home away from home’, relishing the non-vegetarian dishes and enjoying shopping etc.
Asghar spoke with Qaiser Mohammad Ali, during the T20 series against Ireland, in Dehradun. Excerpts:
Now you must be having very few matches left for preparation for the upcoming World Cup in England, starting in May.
The Dehradun leg [Test, T20, and ODI matches against Ireland] was the third phase of our World Cup camp. The first was in Chennai, the second was in Bangalore and third in Dehradun. Here in Dehradun, we are giving opportunities to mostly youngsters so that we could make a good 18-member squad for the World Cup. In this Dehradun camp there were 27 players and our aim is to prune the number down to 18. Masha-Allah our preparation is going well.
This time the World Cup format is the same as it was in 1992, and all 10 teams will play with each other and the top four will progress directly to the semi-finals. Do you like the format?
I think this format is a great opportunity for all the teams. Every team gets more chances, a minimum of nine matches to play. And if they make mistakes, there’s an opportunity to make a comeback. I think the 50-over World Cup format should be like this only as it is played after four years and similar opportunities should be given to the teams – to play eight or nine matches -- because by giving one or two matches you can’t judge a team. This format is the best. Our effort will, In-Shaa-Allah , be that this World Cup is very different from the others that we’ve played. This time, our aim will not be to go and just play; our goal will be to do something good.
Would you like to say something on India-Pakistan cricketing/sporting relations?
Sport is a completely different thing; it should be separated from politics. It’s sport that binds the world together and helps improve relations between countries. Also, sport provides entertainment for fans and they enjoy. If all countries play with each other, the opposition will disappear. But we can’t say about the India-Pakistan issue as their governments know what is best for them. My only suggestion is that cricket should be separated from politics.
Before you entered cricket, did anyone in your family played any level of cricket?
Alhamdulillah, we are nine brothers, and I am at the fifth eldest. They all are businessmen and all have been good cricketers. I learned the game from them. Even my cousins were very fond of cricket and they have played it. When the war was on in Afghanistan we went to Peshawar as refugees and the distance between Afghanistan and Peshawar is only 30-35 km. We were almost at the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. They played cricket there and I also picked up the game. But my father used to get angry. He would tell me to study and do our business, and that there’s nothing in cricket. I learned cricket after a lot of beating, the hard way, but my brothers supported me a lot on cricket because they themselves were fond of it.
What is your father’s view now?
He still says cricket offers nothing, and that it would have been better if I did business. His argument was that in business, you have the responsibility only of your family and in cricket, you have the responsibility of entire Afghanistan, so it is a difficult job.
You and your team has trained and played matches in Dehradun and Greater Noida, the ‘homes’ of the Afghanistan team in India. How has been your experience?
Actually, we have three ‘home grounds’, the other being Sharjah. The significant thing about Dehradun is that its air temperature is just like Kabul. So, here we feel like we are playing in Kabul. But in places like Jalalabad and Kandahar, the weather is exactly the same as here in Dehradun. So, we can’t make out if we are playing in Afghanistan or Dehradun. It is very advantageous for us.
Did you enjoy more in Greater Noida or here in Dehradun?
The reality is that staying in Dehradun is tremendous. People here love cricket a lot. Importantly, they support both teams [opponents]; actually, they support cricket – and also Afghanistan. So, we enjoy a lot playing here.
At Dehradun Stadium, I saw a lot of Afghanistani youngsters studying in India. They were carrying Afghanistan flags. You must have seen.
Young Afghanistanis love their cricketers a lot. In fact, whether it is cricket or football or any other sport, they go to support their players and show their love for them. We try harder in the field because of their love, so that they become happy. There are about 15,000-20,000 Afghanistani students studying in India and that is a big thing for us.
The food of India and Afghanistan is almost the same, isn’t it? Are you comfortable here food-wise?
India is anyway very famous for its tremendous food. A little issue is that the Indian dishes a bit more spicy and we don’t eat so much spice. But we adjust ourselves in about a week. The vegetable dishes and mutton dishes are almost the same in both countries. So, our players have no problem at all and they enjoy Indian food much.
I believe this hotel is taking extra care of your players as they have secured a certificate for halal meat for your players.
Both hotels, Crowne Plaza in Greater Noida and Regenta LP Vilas in Dehradun, are like our families and take good care of us and respect us. We are also very happy with them; it seems like we are with our family members.
Did you people get time go for shopping here in Dehradun or in Greater Noida?
Yes, boys do often go out for shopping. But everyone knows that I don’t go out of my room; either I am in the ground or in my room. Very rarely do I go out with our batting coach Navroz Mangal or the manager.
What do you go out for?
Either I buy shirts, or shoes or perfumes. The quality of the Indian Oud attar (perfume) is the best; I think India exports Oud the world over. Most of my teammates use it as well. Mostly, I am at the hotel, but when I go out I enjoy a lot.
I know Afghani dry fruits are known for their good quality. But do you at all take Indian dry fruits home?
Afghanistan’s dry fruits are the best in the world, so I don’t buy them here; instead, we bring Afghani dry fruits here to eat during series. At times, I only buy Indian kaju (cashew nuts) to take home.