Millennium Post

Afghans celebrate dream journey

Afghans celebrate dream journey
The country had recently been liberated from Taliban rule and while the sport had been played by Afghanis for some years, the Afghanistan Cricket Board (then Federation) was formed in 1995, playing in the ICC ODI World Cup would have been far from the minds of players and fans.

That quickly changed. Afghanistan’s rise has been a rapid one: it started in Division 5 of the ICC World Cricket League in 2008 and it fast moved up the ranks until a win over Kenya in October 2013 secured Afghanistan a second-placed finish in the ICC World Cup League Championship. With that victory came a spot in the ICC World Cup 2015.

Led by captain Mohammad Nabi and coached by Englishman Andy Moles, Afghanistan will make its maiden World Cup appearance on February 18 when it plays Bangladesh at Canberra’s Manuka Oval. Afghanistan’s success has captured the attention of the nation, which will be anxiously watching from home to see whether the Associate team can break through for a win at their maiden World Cup.

Should they find success at WC 2015, expect a huge reception for the team when it returns home. “I think there is pressure on the players, the expectation for them to do well at home is huge, but the country (also) just wants to see them on the world stage. Cricket gives an opportunity for the country to feel proud about the players. And I know the players are very proud to do well, not for themselves but because they know the country will be fully behind them. If they can pull off a couple of results they’ll get the freedom of Kabul when they get home, without a shadow of a doubt,” Moles said in an interview with the ICC.

Many Afghanis became familiar with the game, and fell in love with it, while living in refugee camps in Pakistan after fleeing the Taliban. When they returned, the game came with them.  Nabi’s own life followed this plotline. Born in a refugee camp in Peshawar, he first picked up a cricket bat aged 10.
 He honed his skills through countless hours of practice before beginning formal training at Arshad Khan’s academy in Peshawar, where the off-spinning allrounder attracted the attention of Mike Gatting when he scored a century against a visiting MCC team. From there his cricket career was launched and Nabi was named Afghanistan captain in 2010.

 “Everyone is very happy and ready for this mega event,” Nabi told the ICC last month. Just qualifying for the World Cup was a major cause for celebration in Afghanistan, he said. “At the airport there was a big celebration, parliament members and ministers came to the airport as well,” he said.

But just making it to the tournament will not satisfy Afghanistan’s coaches and players, who believe they have the talent to take some big scalps. If the team’s recent form is anything to go by, they could be right. Afghanistan recorded wins against Ireland and Scotland in a warm-up series last month, having already completed warm-up tours of Australia and New Zealand and a four-match ODI series against United Arab Emirates late last year. “Hopefully we’ll play against (Bangladesh) very well and if we can win against them at the start of the tournament, hopefully we will perform well for the whole tournament. We will try to qualify for the super eight. The boys like the conditions in Australia and we have good attack bowlers and good attack batsman as well,” Nabi said.

Moles, who took over Afghanistan coaching duties last September having previously coached New Zealand, agreed. “I’m very excited to be associated with these boys. It’s a fairy tale story to get where they are now. We’re going to compete. We’re not just going to fulfil fixtures. To get to the super eights we need to beat Bangladesh and Scotland and another one of the full member nations.

“Realistically there are five sides (ranked) above us in our group and so they really should beat us, but we’re going to hopefully compete very well and if we have a good day and one of the other guys have an off day, we’d hope to take advantage of that, he said.

Canberra, Dunedin, Perth, Napier and Sydney will be the destinations for Afghanistan, who will play host nations Australia and New Zealand, along with Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Scotland during the pool stages. The team’s World Cup preparations will culminate in warm-up matches against India, at Adelaide Oval on February 10, and the UAE, at Melbourne’s Junction Oval on February 13.  For a country which did not even have a national team 14 years ago, the fairy tale is about to enter a new era.
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