Former Pakistan captain Inzamam-ul-Haq has been appointed temporary Afghanistan cricket coach for their upcoming Zimbabwe tour, saying he was thrilled to be taking on a team whose rise has been the game's Cinderella story.
Inzamam accepted a 25-day role to coach Afghanistan on their tour of Zimbabwe, where they play five one-day internationals and two Twenty20s starting from October 16.
"I have accepted the role of Afghanistan team coach only for the tour of Zimbabwe," Inzamam told AFP. "It will be exciting and I would love to put their enormous passion on the right track."
Most of the Afghan players learned the game in refugee camps on the Pakistan border after Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979.
They burst on to the cricket world stage in 2009, graduating from Division Five to Division One in the International Cricket Council programme.
Since then they have featured in three World Twenty20 tournaments, and earlier this year made their maiden appearance in the 50-over World Cup held in Australia and New Zealand.
They also won a silver medal in the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou, China.
However they hit a speedbump in August this year, when the Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB) decided not to extend their English coach Andy Moles' one-year tenure, admitting communication between Moles and the team had been a challenge.
Most Afghan players speak Urdu, however, and before Inzamam, former Pakistan players Kabir Khan and Rashid Latif also had stints as Afghanistan coach.
Inzamam said the ACB had been pursuing him for two years.
"They offered me the role of head coach and had been after me for the last two years, and now they have asked me to help them for the Zimbabwe series, which I have agreed," said Inzamam, whose batting expertise should boost the wayward Afghan team.
"They are aggressive and passionate which could be both good and bad, if it is not controlled, so I will try to teach them that control and how to use their passion in the right manner."
Both Moeen Ali and Alex Hales will be given the chance to prove themselves as worthy opening partners to captain Alastair Cook in the warm-up matches ahead of the Pakistan Test series in the UAE.
Speaking after their first training session at ICC Academy since arriving in the UAE, both Cook and coach Trevor Bayliss confirmed that Ali and Hales are in contention for the opening berth while leg-spinner Adil Rashid is all but certain to be handed his Test debut during the tour.
England captain Alastair Cook is hoping for a more fruitful series against Pakistan than the last time the two sides met in the UAE when Saeed Ajmal’s brilliance saw the hosts to a 3-0 whitewash.
Ajmal’s 24 wickets in that series, alongside Abdur Rehman’s 19 scalps, saw Pakistan teach England a harsh lesson in a trial by spin.
Only five players return for England in the Test squad this time around, with Cook, James Anderson, Ian Bell, Stuart Broad and Steven Finn looking to lead an inexperienced, yet buoyant England side.
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Cook is relishing righting that wrong when the Test series begins in Abu Dhabi on October 13.
“Going on that last tour we should have won that series,” said Cook.
“We had opportunities to win that series, but credit to Pakistan they hung on in there and played the critical moments well.”
Some of the names looking to play a key part in shaping England’s fortunes in the Emirates were part of the Lions and one-day squads during that dismal 2012 series, but still lack significant overseas tour experience which may play in their favour.
Jonny Bairstow, Jos Buttler, Alex Hales and Samit Patel were all part of the T20I and ODI squads that beat Pakistan at the conclusion of the Test series, while Joe Root played under captain James Taylor for the Lions.
Cook believes his young charges will thrive this time around, albeit in the unfamiliar surrounds of the UAE.
“That can be the way in subcontinent and UAE conditions. The game can turn very quickly. We’ve got a young and exciting side, we’re very clear in our mind how hard it’s going to be but what a challenge it is for us.
“[The UAE pitches are] pretty similar to the sub continent, the only thing is going back to that 2012 series, the number of lbws there were. That was the highest it’s ever been in any other series.
“Spinners bowling quick spin into that back of a length and it really skidding on. It wasn’t huge turn but that was a big difference then. The pitches didn’t quite deteriorate like some sub continent pitches do. They turned a little bit more without turning as much as they do in Mumbai.”
This time around Cook’s charges are supported by Sri Lanka legend Mahela Jayawardene whose insight into conditions will be a welcome addition.
Cook hopes Jayawerdene’s own skill playing spin will help negate the impact of the likes of Yasir Shah, who is Pakistan’s foremost spinner with Ajmal in the dark.
Some gentle throw downs for Joe Root from Moeen Ali. You think these two will have a big part to play in th… https://t.co/mLGuDax5T2
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“[Jayawardene is] a huge boost,” said Cook.
“I don’t know how many runs he scored [but] it was an incredible achievement and the way he played spin in particular.
“To have his experience, knowledge, he knows Trevor and Paul (Farbrace) very well. He’s fitted in well. It’s down to our batters to pick his brains a little bit.”
Despite the obvious merits of spin bowling in the sub-continent and UAE, Cook added that his seam bowlers are also on board to play a significant part in proceedings.
“We can’t always focus on spin,” he added. “Our seamers took quite a few wickets here last time so you can get rewards with that.”