Published On: Fri, Sep 12th, 2014

Andy Moles begins life as Afghanistan coach – the most dangerous job in cricket

One of the first things Andy Moles wanted to be assured about before he took the job of Afghanistan’s new head coach was what the Taliban thought about cricket.

Do not worry, he was told by his new employers, they approve.

So instead of preparing to join his former Warwickshire team-mates this weekend for a 20th anniversary reunion in the leafy grounds of Wormsley, the private estate of the late John Paul Getty, Moles will be surrounded by armed guards beginning a job that many have called the most dangerous in world cricket.

Moles, a key member of the Warwickshire side that won county cricket’s first treble in 1994, has, not surprisingly, been taking many calls from friends, as well. “They keep saying: ‘Are you sure? it’s a war zone.’ ”

But despite the constant threat of kidnap and security concerns, the 53-year-old was happy to be appointed Afghanistan’s head coach last week after Kabir Khan, a former Pakistan Test player, stepped down for personal reasons.

Moles will take Afghanistan, who have risen to 11th in the International Cricket Council’s one‑day international rankings, to the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand next spring but he has spent the past week getting used to the challenges of living in Kabul, a no‑go area for most westerners.

“I’ve been made very welcome and I’m honoured to have the opportunity to take their national cricket team to next year’s World Cup,” Moles said. “But it’s a country where there are security issues for westerners and you have to keep your wits about you.

“You don’t walk the streets, you stay in your hotel and have room service. You try and take advice from other people who have lived here a long time. You have to live a certain lifestyle here.

“There are armed guards at the hotel I am staying at and also at the bank next door. So you get used to seeing MK47s every day. I watched the hotel guards drilling with their guns the other day.

“There are also armed guards at the ground. The ground is a bit like Edgbaston with a wall around it, but the major difference is that there are eight to 10 armed guards making sure everyone inside is secure. It’s a way of life, but a different way of life.

“The important thing is not to get blase about security. You have to be vigilant all the time.”

Moles, who is back in international coaching almost five years after he stepped down as New Zealand’s head coach, sought security advice from his brother Mark, a counter‑intelligence officer with the Metropolitan Police, before he took the Afghanistan role.

“He has had a long and successful career in the police and he has given me some tips on what not to do and what to look out for,” Moles said.

“When I came out here for the first time six weeks ago to discuss a coaching role I actually felt quite safe. Now the advice I am getting is that it’s not the Taliban wanting to shoot you, the danger around Kabul is kidnap. There is quite a lot of that going on.

“So I don’t go out of the hotel at all at night. I get picked up and driven to coaching sessions and get dropped back at night. I don’t go out on the streets at all.”

Although the earliest records of cricket being played in Afghanistan are of matches involving British troops in the 1830s, it is only over the past 20 years that the game has grown in popularity with the local population, spread by refugees residing in Pakistan.

Afganistan now have around 40 professional players and the national limited-overs league final was recently played in front of a sell-out crowd in Kabul. “Cricket is hugely popular in Afghanistan,” Moles said. “They have just played their one-day competition final here and they had 12,000 in the ground, with many more locked out, and it was televised on national TV.

“It’s similar to India where the players are worshipped by the public. We have 40 contracted players and although they do not earn anywhere the money the top Indian players or county cricketers do, they are wealthy compared with most of the rest of the population.

“They are a very proud and very tough nation. You only need to read a history of Afghanistan to appreciate what they have been through for many years.

“But not many people beat the Afghan people. You get the feeling when you are amongst them that they don’t lie down, so I am going trying to harness that spirit when it comes to the cricket.”

Moles will begin his attempt to mould Afghanistan into a unit capable of competing with the world’s leading cricket nations this weekend when he takes them on a tour to Australia and New Zealand aimed at preparing the players for the conditions they will face in their first World Cup.

Afghanistan, who qualified last October, will face England as well as Scotland and New Zealand, two countries previously coached by Moles, in Pool A.

“From a cricket point of view I’m delighted to be coaching at international level again. Afghanistan are a young and talented squad but they are inexperienced in playing against Full Member countries,” Moles said.

“But they have played a lot of cricket and we do have a lot of cricket coming up before the World Cup with tours to Australia and New Zealand, Dubai and Abu Dhabi and the West Indies.

“My wish would be to emulate what Ireland have done in the last couple of World Cups. They have caused some shocks by playing positive, entertaining cricket.

“That’s what I am trying to get these guys to do, to have a bit of belief. They have beaten Ireland and Pakistan in the past but doing it on the biggest stage of all in their first World Cup will be a huge ask.

“But I will work hard to get them as much confidence as possible, to play without fear of failure and, if they see an opportunity at any stage in a game, to take it.

“I’d like them to enjoy the challenge that lies ahead of them.

“With all the Associate sides the biggest challenge is going to be how the batsmen handle the quicker bowlers. Playing in Australia, where the ball bounces more, is going to be quite brutal for some of these guys who aren’t used to those conditions.

“Like bullies in a school playground, the quick bowlers are going to come and try to rough the batsmen up so it’s a case of getting them ready to accept that and to enjoy the challenge.

“That is something I enjoyed when I played for Warwickshire. I will try to get them to buy into that. To understand what is coming but to enjoy the challenge and if you come out the other side then you have got something to be proud of.”

Moles, who was as solid and dependable opening batsman, played for Warwickshire from 1986 until 1998 when an Achilles tendon injury forced him to retire.

He then moved into coaching, first with Free State in South Africa and then took on international coaching roles with Hong Kong, Kenya and Scotland.

He had a successful stint in charge of Northern Districts in New Zealand where he hired Andrew Strauss, who was briefly out of favour with England, as selector.

In recent years Moles has coached at the University of Western Cape near Cape Town where he set up home.

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