Cape Town – Which minnow side has the most formidable fixture of the entire 2015 World Cup?
It’s pretty difficult to look beyond first-timers Afghanistan, who not only square up to strongly favoured co-hosts Australia among their six assignments in Pool A on March 4, but must do so on arguably the most revered pitch globally for fast bowling ... Perth’s WACA Ground.
At least they’ll have stationed in their corner, as it were, two members of their coaching staff from another heavyweight nation and arch-rivals of the Aussies: South Africa.
Capetonians Ryan Maron, as fielding coach, and former Cobras computer analyst Jason Douglas, the fitness trainer for the so often conflict-torn country, will be part of a brains trust led by head coach Andy Moles, the former Warwickshire and Griquas opening batsman who also has some Western Cape experience courtesy of his stint at UWC.
Maron, 39, once a Western Province batsman and pioneer of the well-established Cricket School of Excellence, has been doing the fielding job with the Afghani side since November last year and must have done a sound job because it has been confirmed that he will remain in the capacity for their massive CWC challenge.
Afghanistan have played in a trio of ICC World Twenty20 tournaments thus far, but this is their first exposure to the more heavyweight, rigorous demands of the 50-overs World Cup.
“I’ve been with them on a freelance basis up to now, and there is some talk of the possibility of a two- or three-year contract to work pre-events for them going forward,” Maron told Sport24.
“I’d also like to work with their A-side and U19s, though you do have to consider - I have a young family - it’s quite dangerous going to Kabul! Right now I’m just excited and privileged to be involved in a World Cup campaign, experiencing one at close hand.”
For the moment, he has been more familiar with assisting the squad (many of the players are refugees) at camps in Dubai.
“I’ve made sessions quite intense; given the guys drills and programmes they’ve never been exposed to before. I keep notes of what areas are improving, which ones remain bad, just to give them feedback so they know what bridges still have to be crossed if they are to compete properly at the highest level.”
Maron says several players are naturally skilled in the field, and he has earmarked several as key inner-ring fielders for powerplays and the like, while pushing those men back to the boundaries when the late charge is on.
“They’re all devoutly religious, and it’s a fascinating experience of a new culture for me. Sixty percent of them speak English, but we also have the manager translating for those who don’t.
“World Cup plans are slowly coming together, and although the Afghanistan cricket board have very passionate and committed administrators, you have to remember that they don't boast the size of back-up teams bigger nations do.
"Lots of aspects like flight plans, clothing and so on are done with unavoidably little time to spare.
“But the players realise they are also massive ambassadors for their turbulent country at the World Cup: it’s a great chance to give the community there some light from their troubles.”
While Maron concedes that it will be a triumph in itself if the Afghani team simply don’t disgrace against the bigger powers, the eternal optimist in him likes to dream of shock qualification for the quarter-finals if they can somehow land, say, three victories.
“If we bring our very best game, and one or two individuals come off in a big way, we could upset Bangladesh. We have prior experience of seeing off Scotland, and let’s imagine that by the time we play England in our last game, they have already been knocked out and are demoralised ... you just never know.”
*Here are the complete Afghanistan fixtures in Pool A; why not adopt them as your favourite underdogs?February 18: v Bangladesh, Canberra
February 22: v Sri Lanka, Dunedin
February 26: v Scotland, Dunedin
March 4: v Australia, Perth
March 8: v New Zealand, Napier
March 13: v England, Sydney
*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing
Ryan Maron (Photo supplied)