by Sajid Sadiq

For a country ravaged by civil war for many years and where violence can be a way of life, the love of cricket is one that has continued to unite the people of Afghanistan and bring great hope for a brighter future.

With their country in a state of turmoil, it would have been almost acceptable to consider that cricketers from Afghanistan would have been satisfied to simply compete at any suitable international level. The world of cricket would have looked at them with sympathy and accorded them polite acknowledgement and not much more would have come of their interest in cricket.

But those who considered Afghanistan just another small cricketing nation vying to find its feet at the international level did so at their peril. Although the British troops who took part in the Anglo-Afghan wars in the 19th century introduced the sport to the people of Afghanistan, it was another hundred years before cricket formally took hold in the country. The Russian invasion of Afghanistan in the 80s resulted in displacement of many of its nationals to camps in Pakistan where the love for the great game was reinforced in Afghan minds.

As conditions improved in Afghanistan and some degree of stability ensued, progress towards the formal setup of the game was quick with the Afghanistan Cricket Federation (now Afghanistan Cricket Board) being formed in 1995. The Afghans by dint of sheer hard work and determination quickly moved to the level of an affiliate member of the International Cricket Council in 2001 and were given membership of the Asian Cricket Council in 2003, and earned their ODI status in 2009. The ultimate reward and recognition of their fast-rising status as a team that could challenge the more established sides came in 2017 when Afghanistan became the 12th Test playing nation.

Whilst the road to their current standing in international cricket was a tough one with many disappointments in terms of results, the raw cricketing talent that Afghanistan possessed was never in question. Whether it was the tough and sometimes harsh economic conditions which powered their hunger to improve themselves and punch many times above their weight, or the simple drive to excel in the face of unreal odds, the emergence of Afghanistan as a cricket nation to beat has been one of the greatest success stories of the modern era.

Amongst the 10 teams that will take part in this year’s World Cup, the Afghans will be hoping to not just simply make up the numbers but to progress to the latter stages of the ICC’s premier ODI tournament. Whilst it would be great for the tournament organisers to have a so called ‘minnow’ side making its way through the tournament, the Afghans will have different ideas. They will be pursuing success with seriousness and given some of the players at their disposal, that may not be as unrealistic as many would think.

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