Afghanistan's development from a struggling team to a genuine threat to higher-ranked sides can be traced through the progressive contributions of their last few coaches. Taj Malik laid the foundations before Kabir Khan got them to think like international cricketers. Andy Moles took them to the 2015 World Cup, after which Inzamam-ul-Haq guided them to their maiden ODI and T20I series wins, over Zimbabwe.
Now it is Lalchand Rajput, the former India batsman, who is taking Afghanistan further into unchartered territory. On October 1, in the third ODI, they will seek to take their next big step, by clinching their first-ever bilateral series against Bangladesh.
Rajput was appointed in June this year after Inzamam left the role to take over as Pakistan's chief selector. So far, Rajput has been able to consolidate and build on the progress made during Inzamam's seven months as coach. Afghanistan now seem to be at least on par with Ireland, and a cut above all other Associate nations.
A 2-1 series result could lead to their rise up the ODI rankings, which would be a huge confidence boost for the emerging team. Young batsman Hashmatullah Shahidi said that Rajput's focus has been on the batting, especially on how to bat for the full 50 overs and rotate the strike.
"In the last one year, Afghanistan cricket has been improving," Shahidi said. "Before him [Rajput], Inzamam-ul-Haq did very well as our coach. Now Rajput sir is trying hard with us. He is giving us more confidence. He tells us that we are one of the best sides in the world.
"He is asking us to play positive cricket against each and every team. He tells us to take everything positively. He is also working on our batting. He is teaching us how to play 50 overs, play till the end and concentrate on singles."
Shahidi said they are now focused on trying to finish their innings well, which they didn't do in the first ODI that they lost by seven runs. They nearly repeated their mistake in the second gamebefore managing to scrape through with a two-wicket win.
"He [Rajput] told us that those who are set at the wicket should go till the end. This was our mistake in the first game. We had a good partnership but we didn't finish the game. It will be hard for the new batsmen to come and play like set batsmen. We will try to fill that gap.
"We had a good partnership and I scored runs in the first game but I should have finished the game. I will learn from my mistakes from the last two games," said Shahidi, who made a fifty in the first ODI.
He was also confident that their spinners Mohammad Nabi and Rashid Khan would once again have a major say in the outcome of the game, as they did in the second ODI, tying up the Bangladesh batsmen and then picking up late wickets to derail them completely.
"Rashid Khan is a very good young talent. He has been successful in the last six months," Shahidi said. "We have good spinners in the side like Mohammad Nabi, who bowled really well in the last game. They will, Insha Allah, do very well in the last game for us."
Steady batting and the spinners' well-planned spells will be Afghanistan's advantage in the third ODI. If they do end up beating Bangladesh, it would be a major milestone in their cricket history, and Rajput would be lauded for his contribution, much like his predecessors Malik, Khan, Moles and Inzamam.
Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84
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