Griqualand West, Hong Kong, Kenya, Scotland, Northern Districts, New Zealand, Afghanistan, and now, Afghanistan Under-19. It must be hard to fit Andy Moles’s CV into one page!
Ever since retiring from first-class cricket in 1997, the former Warwickshire batsman has been all over the world coaching different teams. Right now, he is in New Zealand to provide guidance and advice to the young Afghans in the 2018 Under-19 World Cup.
“Well, I enjoy different challenges and different coaching experiences, and travelling the world doing that is something that turns me on.” he tells Wisden India on the sidelines of his team’s training session in Whangarei on Friday (January 12). “With these guys (the Afghans), the passion for the game is really intense, and you learn a lot when you go around.”
But when Moles first signed a deal with the Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB) in September 2014, agreeing to coach the senior men’s team ahead of the 2015 World Cup, he had some very hard choices to make. His family — especially his brother, who is an anti-terrorism expert — were not at all happy with his decision to take up the job, which required him to visit the troubled city of Kabul every now and then.
“The fact is that every time you go to Kabul, you are going into a dangerous area,” Moles admits. “There are risks involved, so you have to be smart and cut that risk to minimum. I try to do that, and the ACB does everything that they possibly can to ensure I am as safe as possible. I believe, you know, it’s fool-hardy maybe, but, if my time is up, my time could be up in any part of the world. People in Afghanistan have been very warm towards me though, and have made me feel very welcome.
“I go to that country only when there is work that needs to be done. If there is no work that needs to be specifically done over there, they don’t call me. So I keep (the attention) to a minimum, when I have to be there. I do need to go there sometimes to see all the players and to be with other coaches, so I do need to go, come what may. But it’s about doing it at the right time and just being smart.”
“In the main World Cup or the Champions Trophy and things like that, you got a group of players who play together for maybe five, six, seven or sometimes even eight years. Whereas over here, nine to ten guys from our group will move on after this World Cup, so you have to start rebuilding all over again. I think that’s probably why you have to work really hard with such group of players. When they finish, you have to go back and start all over again in the nursery.”
The U-19 side Moles is in charge of right now is a chirpy bunch, with some potential future stars hidden among the ranks.
“All coaches wish for their sides to be as consistent as possible, and in this tournament, I believe there are probably five to six sides who are very closely matched and are capable of winning,” Moles points out. ” (The winner) will literally be the one who can keep their nerves on the day and win the key moments using patience and attack at the right times.
“We, I believe, are one of the sides that can do well in the tournament, but it will come down to young men keeping their passion in control, executing the plans, and above all, enjoying themselves but making sure while they are enjoying the experience, they take the responsibility that’s being handed to them.”
Moles and Co. are going to be up against Pakistan U-19 — who they recently beat twice by big margins in the ACC U19 Asia Cup — in the opening game of the U-19 World Cup.
“Yes we will take some confidence into the game since we have beaten them (Pakistan) in the Asia Cup, but in reality, that doesn’t mean a lot.” says Moles. “Yes, it will give some of the boys some confidence but we know that Pakistan will fight back and they could play Mujeeb (Zadran) particularly well. I am sure they have some plans for him. So yeah, we will take in the confidence, but that shouldn’t impact anything much. We are expecting a really hard game but if we play well, we should win.”
The Northland summer bring in a lot of sunshine and heat, and it’s not the traditional Kiwi green-top on offer at Cobham Oval, which will host all of Group D matches.
“I know the conditions here, I used to coach Northern Districts. This was my area for 12 years ago,” Moles reminds us. “The venue has surely come off well, and I think they have presented the ground very very well.
“The wicket is at least the way I hoped it will be. There is not much grass on it and it looks brown in colour. I’m sure the Pakistan guys want it to turn a bit. We certainly want it to turn more than just a bit — we have got three quality spinners. So you know, everything here, the atmosphere and everything, is great. Whoever plays the best cricket will win and I think that’s the way it should be.”
Two of Afghanistan’s players in the U-19 squad (Zadran and Naveen-ul-Haq) have already played for the senior team, returning good performances against Ireland in December.
“Those youngsters will like the fact that they have played at a higher level, which gives them some more confidence,” says Moles. “But in this group here, we have built a really good strong team unit and we all understand what we expect from each other. We hold each other accountable for team goals and team ethics.
There are 16 coaches here, and they all want to win the tournament. Unfortunately, only one can do it. So I am realistic enough to say this: I am here to do well, yes, but I’m not saying we are definitely going to win it. We will compete well in every game we play. For me, what matters is that these young men have worked really hard in their preparation, in their gym-work, in the nets, mentally. And ultimately, this is their chance to test themselves against the best players in the world in their age group. If they can come through and do well, then that means that in the next three, four or five years — especially now that we have got Test status — it gives these guys an opportunity to play Test cricket. That’s my role. Winning, yes, we want to win, but also, I want to help players to improve themselves, which will allow them to go on to play Test cricket.”
The U-19 World Cup has had six different winners in the past seven editions. Every now and then, a team least expected to do well springs up a surprise to clinch the trophy.
“The big thing in this is that it happens every two years,” says Moles. “And most sides have to turn over players every two years. So that’s why you get different winners. In the main World Cup or the Champions Trophy and things like that, you got a group of players who play together for maybe five, six, seven or sometimes even eight years. Whereas over here, nine to ten guys from our group will move on after this World Cup, so you have to start rebuilding all over again. I think that’s probably why you have to work really hard with such group of players. When they finish, you have to go back and start all over again in the nursery. We have got a particularly good group of players in this cycle though, and if they can be smart and they can be clever, then they are capable of doing some things quite special.”