Tuesday, 31 March 2009

From Kabul to Centurion?

It began as a beacon of hope for refugees returning to a war-torn region. When an Afghan XI then thrashed a touring MCC team in Mumbai in 2006, there was excitement at the promise of swashbuckling opening batsman and legspinner, Mohammed Nabi, and fast bowler Hameed Hassan, immediately recruited as MCC Young Cricketers. Though a successful tour of England followed later that year, with the Afghans undefeated in matches against some strong county 2nd XIs, none could have foreseen the national team's whirlwind series of promotions through the divisions of the World Cricket League, with tournaments won in Jersey (Division 5), Tanzania (Division 4) and Argentina (Division 3) in 2008 and January 2009.

They are now in South Africa, one of 12 teams competing for 4 places in the 2011 World Cup - qualification would spark scenes of delight on the streets of Kabul, since cricket is the Afghan national game, having persisted even under the Taliban. Hardened by a month's training in Pakistan under the auspices of the great Javed Miandad, the team start the competition this Wednesday morning, with a must-win game against Denmark, one of its weaker teams. Realistically, they also need to beat at least one of Kenya, Holland, Bermuda and the U.A.E to qualify for the tournament's second phase, where they will face the likes of Ireland, Scotland and Canada, habitual qualifiers for the main tournament. Few would expect them to reach that stage, but then again few expected them to reach this one - find out here how far the Afghans' momentum can carry them.

A fuller preview of the tournament as a whole can be found courtesy of Will Luke at cricinfo, everyone's 2nd favourite cricket website, and the Afghans' progress can also be followed through star man Hameed Hassan's blog. The tournament's official site may also be of use..

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