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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 13 November 2018

Rashid Khan backs Afghanistan to lift Asia Cup - if they hold their nerve

Leg-spinner, who is his team's key bowler, says team have the talent to go all the way in the UAE
Rashid Khan has risen to become one of Afghanistan's biggest cricket stars over the past two years. Pawan Singh / The National

Rashid Khan insists Afghanistan can win the Asia Cup, so long as they can control their nerves.

The Afghans have played just once previously in the main event of the continent’s top limited-overs competition, back in 2014.

They were beaten to a place in the Twenty20 version of the tournament two years ago by the UAE, while even qualifiers Hong Kong have played more times in the Asia Cup than the Afghans, having also featured in 2004 and 2008.

However, the emergence in recent years of highly-regarded spinners such as himself and Mujeeb Ur Rahman gives Rashid reason to believe his side can cause a shock against Asia's established elite.

“Definitely, we have the talent and the skills to win it,” Rashid said. “We need to keep our nerves calm and cool.

“We just need to enjoy our games, and not think about who we are playing, we just need to play the ball, not the player.

“I think that will be key. If we can control our nerves and do the right things, take a good decision at the right time, that will be the difference between us and them.

“We have good talent, good spin bowling, batting and fast bowling. Those who will be the winners will be the ones who control their nerves. There is a chance. We can beat any side. We need to stay calm and express ourselves.”

The last time Afghanistan were glimpsed in Asia, they were beaten within two days of their Test debut in India.

Rashid, who is the No 2-ranked bowler in the world in ODIs, says his side learnt valuable lessons in that loss.

“We played our first Test in India, against the best team, in Bangalore, so it was always going to be a tough time,” Rashid said.

“It was tough. We didn’t know how it was going on in the first session. It was something very special, and we were not even believing at that time that we were playing Test cricket.

“We got the experience from that, and hopefully that will help us in upcoming matches. In this Asia Cup, it will really help us. We will learn from the mistakes that will happen in the past.”

Rashid was speaking at the player draft of the first Afghanistan Premier League, at a hotel in Dubai.

It is a measure of his standing in the game that the 19-year-old spinner was one listed “icon” player from Afghanistan, alongside international stars like Shahid Afridi, Brendon McCullum, Chris Gayle and Andre Russell.

He will play for the Kabul franchise, in the new five-team competition which starts in Sharjah next month.

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Read more:

Amith Passela: Sri Lanka 'certain' Lasith Malinga will come good at the Asia Cup

Afghanistan enter Asia Cup 'full of hope' as Stanikzai urges fans to 'be behind us in every game'

Qualifier: Dougie Brown 'gutted' as UAE are forced to watch Asia Cup from the sidelines

Lowdown: Everything you need to know about the tournament to be held in the UAE

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“After playing in a lot of leagues all over the world, it will be a special moment for me to have a shirt of APL, while playing my country’s league cricket,” Rashid said.

“It is a kind of dream. Every country has their own league, and finally we have this. It felt impossible to have it in such a short period of time, but they have done it.”

Mohammed Naveed was the lone UAE cricketer to be drafted. The fast bowler was picked by the Kandahar franchise, where he will play alongside the likes of McCullum, Wahab Riaz and Paul Stirling.

Mazhar Khan, the administrator of Sharjah Cricket Stadium, where the tournament will be held, said he expects sizable crowds.

“I have been following Afghanistan cricket for the past 15 years,” Mazhar said. “We feel proud to be associated with them, and proud they are up in the top 10 teams in the world.

“Afghanistan has had very good support right from Day 1 in this part of the world. I am sure there will be a lot of crowd to handle.”