1st ODI: Afghanistan, West Indies eye winning start
Lucknow: It's going to be an intriguing battle between two teams that are striving to raise their profile in international cricket. West Indies are trying to regain some of the glory of the years gone by while Afghanistan are taking initial steps to become a force to reckon with.
The two sides that finished at the bottom of the points table in the 50-overs World Cup earlier this summer in the UK, will be playing three ODIs, three T20I and a Test match at the Ekana Stadium here over the next 30 days, with the first ODI, a D-N affair, set to be played today.
Afghanistan have chosen Lucknow as their new adopted home despite playing a series against Ireland in Dehradun earlier in the year and registering their first Test win in only their second match. The city of Nawabs provides far better facilities both on and off the field for the players to play and recreate as the teams will be stuck in the city for well over a month.
After the World Cup debacle where they lost all nine league games, Afghanistan replaced skipper Gulbadin Naib with their most promising bowler Rashid Khan, who led the side to a historic win over Bangladesh in a one-off Test in September. West Indies too have fallen back on Keiron Pollard to lead the team out of the mire it has got stuck for long, with a few patches of glory, their best being the T20 World title in 2016 under Darren Sammy.
Both the teams have short-term as well as long-term goals under new coaches. West Indies have brought back Phil Simmons as the coach while former South African all-rounder Lance Klusener has taken over as Afghanistan coach from Simmons. The immediate aim of the think-tank is to prepare the team for the next year's T20 World Cup to be played in Australia in September-October and the long-term plan is of course the 2023 50-overs World Cup which will be held in India.
"We will be working to form a pool of players that will serve Afghanistan cricket for the next few years. We have a group of talented players, and all they require is exposure and experience. My job is to see that pool of players becomes formidable enough to take on the top teams in world cricket," said Klusener.
Simmons, who was at the helm as the coach of the West Indies team when they won the 2016 T20 World Cup, said: "Though the team has had ups and downs, probable more downs than ups, it’s time for West Indies to show consistent results to become one of the favourites for the T20 World Cup. That process starts here today."
With the Ekana pitch promising to help the spinners, it is going to be a keen battle between the three-pronged Afghanistan spin attack led by Rashid Khan, Mohammad Nabi and Mujeeb-ur-Rahman, and the West Indies batsmen. It will be interesting to see who triumphs — the West Indies brawn or Afghanistan brain.
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