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Article - Afghan

Afghanistan's new hope

            The Jamaican bobsleigh team and African women's volleyball champions Kenya Prisons are some of the more unusual features of the sporting landscape. However no team can boast a more improbable origin than that of the latest side ready to make an impact on the world stage- Afghanistan's cricketers.

            If asked to name things associated with the Taliban, links to sporting success is unlikely to feature on the list. However it was their mostly unwitting influence which led to the formation and development of the Afghanistan cricket team. As Taliban fighters gained increasing control over the mountainous country, many families were forced to flee to neighbouring Pakistan.

            Trapped in the squalor of dismal refugee camps, the bored young men needed something to pass the time. Their Pakistani brethren started challenging them to games of cricket. Though unfamiliar with the sport, the Afghan refugees soon absorbed the cricket fervour of their hosts, and so the Afghanistan Cricket Board was founded in Pakistan in 1995.

            The Taliban, seeing the increasing popularity of the game, made cricket their only officially recognised sport. Taliban negotiators were instrumental in securing ICC admittance and in the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar $1m of funding has been secured from the Indian government to build a new cricket ground.

            Coming from a nation with a very modest sporting record (their Beijing 2008 and London 2012 bronzes in Taekwondo being their only Olympics medals) the cricketers have achieved regional success in a very short time-frame. They have claimed the cricket silver medal in the last two editions of the Asian Games and have performed admirably in a number of ICC Tier 2 tournaments.

            Afghanistan's greatest moment to date occurred a year ago in the World Cup Qualification tournament in New Zealand. There they overcame World Cup regulars such as Kenya and The Netherlands, to secure a maiden appearance at cricket's biggest tournament.

            Their strength is in their batting line-up, wicketkeeper Mohammad Shahzad is the first Afghan player to score an international double century. The likes of Bangladesh and Scotland can expect a tough game when they face Afghanistan in the World Cup. A debut victory is well within the bounds of possibility. However Afghanistan fare in the next few weeks, they can rightly be regarded as winners- the team that did not lose hope even in the grimmest circumstances. Have you ever been in a similar hopeless situation; what unexpected happening gave you a new sense of purpose?

Brian Salmon

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