Monday, April 26, 2010

The Afghanistan cricket team (from the AFP)

From desperate, hand-to-mouth survival in squalid refugee camps in Pakistan to a world championship jam-packed with multi-millionaires, Afghanistan's cricketers have come a long way.

Only recognised by the International Cricket Council in 2001 and playing in Division Five of the World Cricket League, alongside the likes of Germany, Vanuatu and Norway, less than two years ago, Afghanistan are the unlikely lads at the 2010 World Twenty20.

Many believe that having been drawn in the same first round group as former champions India as well as South Africa, their stay in the Caribbean may be short-lived.

But coach Kabir Khan, a former Pakistan international, senses an upset in the air.

"We are excited about facing India. We have been working hard and we want to give them a big fight. We will make it hard for them and hope to make an upset. We are not just going there just to participate," said Kabir.

"Our team is mentally very strong. We have lectures on how to keep calm in front of the cameras and playing in front of big crowds.

"Wherever we go, we play in front of crowds who support us. But at the big tournaments, they have to get used to fans cheering against them as well."

All-rounder Asghar Stanikzai also believes that Afghanistan have nothing to lose.

"We're kind of the underdog for our group and the pressure is actually really on South Africa and India as to them we're the unknown quantity to take on in this tournament," said Asghar.

"We just want to go out there and enjoy each game we play. We're quite excited, we've been waiting for a while to be able to prove ourselves in a big tournament and we've worked really hard to get there and we're really looking forward to the experience."

Just reaching the 12-nation tournament is an achievement for a team who forged their skills in refugee camps in the north-west of Pakistan having fled their homeland where cricket, like all sports, was banned by the Taliban.

The players' average salary is 300 US dollars a month.

In marked comparison, India skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni, according to the Forbes rich list, banked a cool 10 million dollars in 2008.

Stark reminders of Afghanistan's troubles are never far away.

When they returned home after winning the Division Five tournament in 2008, the official welcome was staged in Kabul's national stadium where the Taliban regime once staged public executions.

Even now the security situation is so brittle that Afghanistan can't play home games inside their own country.

Not that travelling seems to be a problem.

They reaced the World Twenty20 by winning the qualifying tournament in the United Arab Emirates while, last year, they narrowly missed out on a place at the 2011 World Cup when qualifiers were staged in South Africa.

However, their performances did earn them one-day international status.

For their trip to the Caribbean, Afghanistan have prepared in Kuwait, Lahore and Sharjah.

Afghanistan have plenty of batting strength and this was demonstrated in the ICC Intercontinental Cup match against Canada in Sharjah in February.

Set 494 to win Asghar was at the crease, 23 not out, when the winning runs were scored for the loss of only four wickets.

At the World Twenty20, they will be led by 25-year-old captain and off-spinner Nowroz Mangal who took three wickets and made an unbeaten 21 when Afghanistan beat Ireland by eight wickets in February's qualifying final.

Afghanistan begin their campaign against India in St Lucia on Saturday, May 1 and then meet South Africa in Barbados on Wednesday, May 5.


Anonymous,  12:18 am  

As long as we are there among the world's top 12 teams is far greater than winning a single game in W20. It's a moral boast for our team that we are at the top and this will give us a far greater push to hold onto the top.
May God bring victories to us.
This reminds me of the song "We Are The Champions" against all odds.
Peace to the world..

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