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Help Wanted

Afghanistan could be the next cricketing powerhouse, if only they had the right assistance.

Nader Rahman

With a group of faithful supporters Afghanistan has a reasonably solid fan base.

When one thinks of cricket, Afghanistan is not a country that comes to mind. India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka dominate the sport from South Asia while only a handful of other countries actually play the sport at a competitive level. But that could all change very soon. With the Afghanistan cricket team qualifying for the World Twenty20 we could be witnessing the rise of cricket's newest force.

Cricket is not a very inclusive sport, in the hundred and thirty years it has been played internationally only nine countries (the West Indies does not count as a country) have played the sport at the highest level and there was a very 'old boys club' feel to how the game was governed and spread. It never went beyond the British colonies and most importantly for the longest time it never wanted to become a global game, that was until the full force of globalisation hit it.

Soon the people who ran the game realised that if they didn't spread to non-traditional markets they would lose out on valuable revenue and money was the only thing that could keep the game afloat. The global push led to cricket being played in the UAE, Canada, Singapore, Malaysia and even Morocco but worryingly the game never found a foothold in these countries. They provided surrogate fields, but the players were still from the 'old boys club.'

The global push proved to be successful in a limited way. Kenya proved itself to be an able cricketing nation as Ireland recently have as well, but the problem is that the majority of their populations do not consider cricket to be the sport of choice. Ireland have a rich Footballing history and as such cricket will never compete with it, while in Kenya the prohibitive cost of cricket equipment automatically makes it less attractive than football. Aside from everything thing else cricket usually cannot survive without a strong domestic structure which keeps churning out player for the national team and Kenya and Ireland have yet to set up that infrastructure. With all of that in mind it seems ridiculous that any nation would be able to enter crickets elite circle, but if Afghanistan play their cards right they could very well do so.

The current Afghanistan team has a lot going for it, they are talented, have a reasonable pool of players to pick from and most importantly they have a population biased towards cricket due to the influence of its omnipresent neighbour Pakistan. Its major problems are not too difficult to figure out, there is absolutely no cricketing structure of any kind the country. Fields and training grounds and few and far between, aside form the fact that an active war is being fought in their country which shows no signs of letting up any time soon. No one needs to point out the fact that nothing short of a miracle is needed if they are to be a cricketing force for the future, but that miracle could just have started.

This celebration could be the first of many.

When their team was put together only a few years ago, they had only one ambition, to make it to the World Cup. In an amazing display of courage and fortitude they won tournament after tournament moving up the ranks just to enter the ICC trophy, to see if they could finally make it to World Cup. Their dream run ended as they fell agonisingly short of the World Cup, but in the process they not only turned a few heads, but gained a lot more respect. With that new found respect and no facilities to speak of, they managed to get themselves into the qualifying tournament of the World Twenty20 competition and did not look back from there. As they qualified for the final they knew they were guaranteed a sport in the World Twenty20, yet they stayed focussed and went on to win the final with consummate ease. Their winning mentality and ever say die attitude have made them the darling of the cricketing world, but even they know there is still a lot felt to be done.

Their talent is obvious, so is the fact that most of them learned the game from refugee camps in Pakistan and while that may have been the learning experience for the current team, future players will need to be taught and schooled in Afghanistan. Replying on Pakistan can and will only get them so far, the game needs to take root properly in Afghanistan if it is to grow properly.

Qualifying for the World Twenty20 is just the way to get the next generation interested, it gives children something to aspire to. Afghanistan may have a large number of cricket players but as long as they see it as just another sport they will never aspire to play it at its highest level. This is also where the ICC must step in, surely Afghanistan provides them with an opportunity to add another nation to cricket's elite. The funding must be steady and the support must be unequivocal if Afghanistan is to make best use of its limited resources.

For cricket in Afghanistan to go places they will need the continued help of their neighbours to succeed. That includes everything from bi-lateral tours to coaching to infrastructure development and as such Bangladesh should be quick to help them out. It was only a decade ago that we were on the outside looking in. With Afghanistan now an official ODI team, they should be invited for a ODI and Twenty20 tour sometime in the foreseeable future, because the only way for them to improve is by playing teams better than them.

No matter what people say about the development of Bangladeshi cricket, we have reached our current stage of respectability only by playing the Australia's of the world on a regular basis. Had we kept on playing Kenya, we would have been where we are. Afghanistan must do the same, and we in the subcontinent must help them in every way possible. Who knows the next major cricketing rivalry may be Bangladesh Vs Afghanistan, now wouldn't that be a sight to see.



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