Before the 2015 Cricket World Cup not many would have found much of an association between the words Afghanistan and cricket. It is a savage land, of searing heat in summer and freezing cold in winter. It is poor and crippled by conflict. With a troubled history, Afghanistan remains a volatile, dangerous place, which would not be on many people’s holiday list.
A fiercely independent state, the Afghans fought three wars against the British in 1839-1842, 1878-1880 and finally, at the end of World War 1, when the weary British decided to relinquish their control over foreign affairs. In more recent times, the Afghans have fought a decade long campaign against the invading Russians and a low level conflict continues in the state still.
Although cricket was known in the country as far back as the mid 19th century, the Afghanistan Cricket Federation was formed only in 1995 and became a member of the ICC in 2001, when the national team was formed.
In the midst of war, a love of cricket had developed through the eighties, despite the most meager of facilities. In Kabul itself, cricket was played on muddy grounds covered with rubbish. Players to the early tournaments, in places such as Tanzania and Jersey were not paid and some went hungry in their determination to play a game many had learned in refugee camps, following the Soviet invasion. Captain Mohammed Nabi, Shapoor Zadran and Samuillah Shenwari are three such players. Karim Sadiq would work in a match factory at night and play cricket during the day in his refugee camp.
These early days really toughened the Afghan team. None of the players is wealthy and most have lost siblings to war or illness. It is only a few years ago that Afghanistan was playing Division 5 of the World Cricket League, where there were often no grounds or pitches.
Because Afghanistan remains such a very dangerous place, coach Andy Moles arrives in the country only two weeks before a tour. He and his assistant have a permanent guard and there are up to eight checkpoints on the way to each practice session.
Different ethnic and tribal groups have been absorbed into a common Afghanistan identity by cricket and even the Taliban lifted a ban on the game in 2000.
After qualifying for the 20/20 world cup in 2010, the team’s first qualification for the 50 over format of the game at this year’s world cup was wildly celebrated in Afghanistan. There are few frills about Afghanistan cricket, little money and not much experience but a great spirit. Unusually for a new, unheralded side, their strength lies in their bowling, with at least two genuine pace bowlers in the team.
Afghanistan has come a long way in a very short time and as captain Nabi says, “We are ready for everything.”
These cricketers deserve the very best of good fortune in this extraordinary venture.