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Afghanistan players nurture World Cup hopes

January 13, 2009 22:28 IST

A place in the 2011 World Cup would be one way of giving the people of war-torn Afghanistan some joy and solace, says the country's cricket captain Nowroz Mangal.

"Playing in the 2011 World Cup is a dream for us and we know what it would mean to our people. For us cricket is not just a sport, it is much more," he said.

Despite their inexperience, Afghanistan have already won the International Cricket Council (ICC) world division league four and five tournaments in New Jersey and Tanzania last year.

From Jan. 24 they play in the division three tournament with five other teams in Buenos Aires where a top-two finish would give them a place in the 12-team World Cup qualifying round in South Africa in April.

Four teams from the qualifying round will get places in the 2011 World Cup to be staged jointly by Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

The violence and tough living conditions in the Muslim country have left little room for sporting activities but Mangal is optimistic that success in sport can make life easier for his people.

"I know of the happiness of our people when our athlete won a medal in last year's Olympic Games," he said.

Rohullah Nikpai was given a hero's welcome when he returned to Kabul from Beijing after winning Afghanistan's first Olympic medal, a bronze in the 58-kg Taekwondo event.


Violence has surged in recent years in Afghanistan since the Taliban, ousted in a U.S.-led invasion in 2001, regrouped in 2005 to try to drive out the foreign troops and to topple the Western-backed government of President Hamid Karzai.

Nearly 700 civilians were killed up to October last year in raids by foreign and Afghan forces, an Afghan rights body said last month, quoting a United Nations estimate.

Afghanistan has been a main focus for the ICC in its regional development programme for Asia since the Afghanis became affiliate members in 2001. The ICC has a projected development budget of $5.625 million for the continent in its funding plans for 2009-16.

Mangal and his team are taking part in a two-week high-performance camp in the Pakistani city of Lahore as part of their journey towards qualifying for the World Cup, which features one-day matches.

All rounder Mohammad Nabi said the players saw success in cricket as one way of helping Afghanistan back on the road to normal life.

Nabi, 23, is one of the brightest Afghani cricket hopes and has played for the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) and Pakistan Customs in six first-class matches.

Belonging to Logar province, Nabi made his first-class debut at Arundel playing for the MCC against Sri Lanka A in 2007 and since then has seen his country make rapid strides in cricket.


Team coach Kabir Khan believes there is plenty of enthusiasm for cricket in Afghanistan, as well as ample talent, although because of the violence the sport has been restricted to a few areas such as Jalalabad, Khost, Nangahar and Logar.

"Their cricket is still in its infancy stage. They don't have proper grounds and few club teams which is why their progress this far in the world division league is remarkable," he said.

Matthew Kennedy, the ICC's global development manager, said that since joining the council Afghanistan had developed greatly as a cricketing nation and benefited from the investment provided.

Khan, who played four Tests and 10 one-day internationals for Pakistan in the 1990s, believes his team are good enough to play in the 2011 World Cup.

"I am very hopeful about it. I want the players to be there as they really deserve to be. We are taking things as they come," he said.

Khan has been working with the team since last year and believes Afghanistan's proximity to Pakistan, a cricket powerhouse, has helped the players.

"Pakistan offers a good opportunity to these players to train and practise and play good level cricket," he said.

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