Against the odds: the rise of the Afghan national cricket team

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Dubai, DEC 09,
If there is a more inspiring story in sport than that of the Afghanistan cricket team, we are yet to hear about it. If there is a more heart-warming tale coming out of a nation ravaged by war, it remains to be told.
It is the story of the human spirit triumphing against the heaviest of odds. It is the story of daring to dream the most impossible-seeming of dreams, and living that dream.
Among those who dreamt of Afghanistan playing at the cricket World Cup one day, while living in refugee camps in another country, was Nawroz Mangal. Now the chief national selector, he has been a crucial part of his country’s incredible journey that has won admirers wherever cricket is played.
That journey recently took Mangal to Sharjah, where Afghanistan cricket reached another milestone – the creation of a star-studded T20 league of its own. On the eve of the Afghanistan Premier League’s kick-off, sitting in one of the VIP boxes at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium, the former Afghan captain tells The Hindu he is sometimes himself surprised with the kind of success his players have achieved on the global stage, given the state of affairs back home.
The war that began with the invasion of the United States in 2001 has not ended, the Taliban continues to launch attacks, and peace is some distance away. “The situation is difficult in Afghanistan,” he says. “We have little infrastructure.”
Quick progress
Afghan cricketers may not be able to play a game before their adoring fans any time in the foreseeable future. Forget playing, they have to look for places outside the country for training. The Afghan team is undergoing a pre-season camp in Chennai at the moment, having trained in the past in places like Sharjah, Noida and Dehradun. Nomads they may be, but they have proved they feel at home in international cricket.No other country has possibly covered as much ground in any sport in as short a span of time, even while bearing the brunt of bloody wars. After forming its first official team in 1995, Afghanistan is ranked No. 8 in the ICC’s world ranking for T20, ahead of countries like Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Sri Lanka received ICC’s associate membership in 1965 and Bangladesh in 1977; Afghanistan was admitted only in 2001.
In June this year, Afghanistan played a Test too (only the 12th country to do so in history, going back to 1877). Yes, it was walloped by India in that match by an innings and 262 runs inside two days at Bengaluru. That wasn’t much of a surprise, though, considering the lack of experience of the team in games in which it has to bat twice.
Fine ODI side
However, three months later at the Asia Cup in the UAE, Afghanistan tied with India – which had rested some top stars like Virat Kohli, though – after beating Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. It had also given Pakistan a scare.
Afghanistan has indeed evolved into a fine ODI side and the expectations will be high at the World Cup in England next year.

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