Can Afghanistan’s cricket heroes fight back?

April 8, 2009

With three defeats in a row, Afghanistan’s cricket team are fighting with their backs to the wall in their quest for a place in next year’s World Cup, the highest level of the game.

Up until now theirs has been an inspired performance, jumping from the fifth division of world cricket to one level below the major test-playing countries in less than a year.  Now in South Africa for the World Cup qualifiers they are bidding for a place at the top table of cricket and after a dream run are struggling.

They lost their latest game against the United Arab Emirates on Wednesday.

Can they find in themselves, in their tough beginnings as cricketers, the power to fight back? This team is nothing if not gritty and determined.  Read this piece in cricinfo about a team unlike any other ever in the history of the game. Many of its members grew up in the refugee camps of northwest Pakistan where their families fled during the wars in Afghanistan.

Middle-order batsman Raees Ahmadzai can’t even tell you how old he is – his mother works out his age by seeing who the Afghan president was at the time of his birth and that is a very rough calculation. “Unofficially, I’m nearly 25, give or take three years. Or four. I could be 21 or 28.”

In the squalor and poverty of their camps made of tents or mud huts, they couldn’t afford cricket balls or even the tennis balls wrapped in tape that the youth in India and Pakistan play with in the streets and back alleys.

So they would make cricket balls out of cloth, even a shirt, wrapping it round and round. “And we would cut trees and lay down bark for a wicket . We’d  have two shoes for stumps, and if the ball went through the middile, you’d be out.”

Before they set off for South Africa, the Afghan team coach Kabir Khan said he was confident the grit of his team would see them through the qualifying rounds.  They had seen war at home, hardship in the camps and so were a tough lot.

And above all, like sport elsewhere sometimes, there was obviously a  bit more at stake for cricket’s slumdog heroes. “To them, playing the World Cup is more than just cricket,” Khan said.

{Pics:Shapoor Zadran from Afghanistan celebrates after taking wicket in game against United Arab Emirates on April 8  and a cricket game in Kabul disrupted by storm]


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