Nawroz Mangal is a legend of Afghanistan cricket. He was at the helm at numerous of their milestone wins as they hared up the ranks from refugee camps to become a formidable force in world cricket.
Mangal played in their first match at the international level, he led them to one-day international status and World Cup qualification, before bowing out on a high in 2017, the team giving him a farewell with victory in the Desert T20.
On the one hand it’s a matter of great joy and on the other, a bit of desire, that I too could have been a part of this match. But, the dream all of us had seen for around 20 years has come true. I am part of it in a way, there are other senior players too. It’s an achievement for the Afghan people and all the members of the cricket board. Of course, all cricketers want to play at the highest level. And by the grace of Allah we have achieved it.
Now the chief selector, he laughingly admits to feeling just a twinge of envy at seeing the players receive very special Test caps, but is proud at how far the team has come. On the sidelines of Afghanistan’s historic maiden Test in Bengaluru, he spoke to the ICC about the team’s journey, the celebrations back home and his hopes for the future. Excerpts:
Like we played T20 against India in 2010 [at the ICC World T20, the first major tournament Afghanistan qualified for], it was a unique feeling. We played an ODI against Scotland in 2009 [their first ever ODI], it was a different feeling. Then we played the World Cup [in 2015]. Every event has a different feeling. All such events have their own thrill. This is the last stage and we have reached there.
The team deserves all the praise. It’s a new, brilliant and special beginning. When we played the ACC Trophy in 2004, I scored 101* as the team scored 202 against Oman, but we lost. Against Nepal [in the fifth place play-offs], we lost chasing 148. I felt very disappointed. But at that time, that was our level.
But the people who saw us said that we had the talent and passion to move higher. I said that is the problem – we have achieved so much with so little, how do we move higher? But they saw our passion and talent and technique and said that we should work on it and you will achieve great things one day.
Absolutely. It was a different time. We had gone to Argentina with just one pair of playing clothing for each of us! There was no money to buy things. Now we stay in five-star hotels. If you see the facilities and the grounds in Afghanistan now, it’s all different. I tell the kids that they are really very fortunate. They can play in their country, and the facilities are so good.
They get daily allowances, match fees, kit, bats, pads, clothes … I had one bat, I had bought it for around 1000 Afghanis. The whole team used that bat! Now everyone has a bat sponsor too. Those days, the team survived five-six months on 600-700 dollars. Now each bat comes for that match. That’s the improvement we have seen, and it’s still getting better.
We have the passion and the talent, and we are benefitting.
When we started out, people would ask us to train to be something else – ‘Do some business, what is this you’re doing? There is no future in this.’ Now, by the grace of Allah, this has changed a lot. And good players are coming up, like Rashid, Nabi, Mujeeb … they are playing IPL. There are more players in Afghanistan. Fathers want their sons to be the next Nabi or Mujeeb or Karim Sadiq or Rashid. It’s a positive sign. Now the Test – people ate not saying ‘Eid Mubarak’, they are saying we will say Mubarak tomorrow, we are watching the match right now!
The main hope is that we can play home series in our country like we have been playing in India or the UAE. That will really boost cricket in Afghanistan. Hopefully that will happen one day too. That aside, I hope there is love and peace. And that the players spread the message of peace, that they convince the people who are angry to come forward and work towards the benefit of everyone.