Monday, 15 February 2010

Beausejour beckons for Team Afghanistan

They did it.

On Saturday morning, Noor Ali and Raees Ahmadzai ran the most important single in their country's short cricketing history, clinching a 4-wicket victory over the UAE that secured Afghanistan a spot at the World Twenty20 in the Caribbean this spring.

The triumphant Afghans then celebrated by drubbing Ireland in the final of the Qualifying Tournament. When Mohammad Shahzad finished off proceedings by launching a long hop over cover for six, he catapulted Afghanistan into Group C at the main event, where they will play India and South Africa.

Hamid Hassan's blog post on Cricinfo received more than a 100 congratulatory comments in 24 hours. I mentioned on Friday that Hassan had likened his team's story to that of Rocky Balboa. Well, the Italian Stallion may have come from fairly humble beginnings, but he didn't come from a refugee camp. Ahmadzai, wicketkeeper-batsman Karim Sadiq, fast bowler Hasti Gul and former coach Taj Malik all learnt to play cricket in the vast Kacha Garhi Camp near Peshawar and most of their teammates grew up in similar settlements in Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province.

Afghanistan's national team was first formed in 2001. When they joined Division 5 of the ICC's World Cricket League in 2008, 25 countries stood between them and a spot at the 2011 World Cup. In less than two years, they leapfrogged 23 of those 25, narrowly missing out on qualification but becoming one of the six teams with "full ODI status" ranked immediately below cricket's top tier of Test-playing nations.

A small group of film-makers followed Afghanistan's cricketers on part of this amazing journey. Their short documentary, "Out of the Ashes," will hopefully be shown on BBC Four this summer.

Their disappointment at not making the 50-over World Cup no doubt evaporated last weekend, especially as they have a much better chance of causing an upset in the 20-over version. (If the Dutch can surprise England in this form of the game, Afghanistan will believe they can trouble any of the big boys.)

The players' thoughts will now turn to Gros Islet, St Lucia, where the Beausejour Stadium beckons. There, on May 1st, Afghanistan - a team of amateurs dependent on ICC stipends to travel to tournaments, representing a country blessed with one turf cricket pitch, one rickety bowling machine and one very bloody war - will take on India, the billionaire superpower of world cricket.

Who will you be cheering for?


  1. Nice post Imran, can't wait for the BBC 4 doc to come round - I hope they manage to get it on at the same time as the World Cup. Definitely going to be supporting the Afghans against Dhoni & Co on May 1st, how could you not be?!

    By the way, did you enjoy watching England get beat by two South Africans masquerading as our B team today? What a joke...

  2. My favourite Bradford-born legspinner's wickets were pretty important too, but your point stands - Pietersen, Trott, Kieswetter, Lumb - it's getting a bit ridiculous!


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