Rapid learners Afghanistan take another giant stride with Test win over Bangladesh

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The victorious Afghanistan side. Image - @ACBofficial/Twitter.

Another chapter in the incredible rise of Afghanistan cricket was added on Monday at Chittagong when Rashid Khan had Soumya Sarkar caught at short-leg to spark wild jubilation.

That wicket in the fading light wrapped up a 224-run run win for Afghanistan in the one-off clash against Bangladesh, meaning they have now won two of the three Tests they have featured in since gaining full ICC membership last year.

The fact that it took Bangladesh nearly nine years and 60 Tests to record their second win in the format puts Afghanistan’s meteoric rise into context. That no other side in history apart from Australia has managed to win two out of their first three Tests further vindicates their phenomenal achievement.

Throughout their sensational rise through the ranks in international cricket, Afghanistan have proven that they are quick learners and that very same trait is now shining in their foray into five-day cricket.

Their introduction to Test cricket was as harsh as they come with the debutants being crushed by an innings and 262 runs by India at Bengaluru last year. That comprehensive defeat seemingly exposed the massive gulf that existed between them and the top international sides in the world, but victories over Ireland and now Bangladesh since shows how quickly they have found their footing in red-ball cricket.

It is hard to believe that Afghanistan were languishing in Division Five of the ICC World Cricket League just over a decade ago and they have taken barely any time at all to establish themselves as a top-10 side in all three formats of the international game.

Their remarkable journey has seen them qualify for every T20 World Cup since 2010 while their appearance in England for the 2019 World Cup was their second-ever in the 50-over format. The most heartwarming aspect of their success is that it has come in the face of massive adversity amidst a tumultuous period in the country’s history.

A large part of the current squad including skipper Rashid honed their cricket skills in refugee camps of Peshawar, Pakistan in the backdrop of never-ending conflicts and war back home in Afghanistan. Amidst the devastation brought on by war and terror, the cricket team’s rise to global stardom over the last decade has been a cause of immense pride for the citizens of Afghanistan.

While their rise has been electric, it hasn’t been all perfect as their most recent World Cup campaign in England just showed. The entire campaign was fraught with controversies with a last-minute captaincy change just weeks before the start of the tournament triggering a sequence of events that would see them lose all nine matches to finish last.

But just when the wheels were starting to come off in Afghanistan’s incredible story, they have once again sent a timely reminder as to why they are here to stay at the international level. The team management and board has swiftly moved on from that disastrous World Cup campaign with 20-year-old Rashid being appointed as skipper across all three formats.

Hot-weather training camps in Abu Dhabi and then Chittagong before the one-off Test against Bangladesh has paid dividends for Afghanistan, with their extensive levels of preparation coming to the fore in the colossal 224-run win. In comparison, Bangladesh were caught napping with their lackadaisical preparations for the Test and paid the ultimate price in front of their home fans.

Rashid – the youngest-ever captain in Test history – seems like the perfect candidate to usher in the next chapter of Afghanistan’s glorious rise with an equally youthful looking squad at his disposal. While his own match-winning all-round display was a big positive to take for Afghanistan from their win, there were other youngsters who made significant contributions as well.

The 17-year-old Ibrahim Zadran impressed with the bat with a fine 87 in the second innings while 20-year-old Zahir Khan looked promising with his leg-spin. With 19-year-old Qais Ahmed and mystery spinner Mujeeb ur Rahman also in the mix, there is the making of a strong young core for the Afghanistan Test outfit which could become the team’s backbone over the next decade.

Their phenomenal rise at the senior level has been mirrored at the junior level as well with the U19 outfit making its mark in various tournaments. With such positive signs from all quarters, the future is indeed looking bright for Afghanistan cricket and they will be eyeing another giant scalp in the form of West Indies when they host the Caribbean side in a one-off Test later this year.

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