Sharjah: Feb 9, 2012
War-ravaged Afghanistan's fairy-tale rise in cricket is a success story in the development and growth of the game, a further step arriving with their first-ever One-Day International against Pakistan on Friday.
Afghanistan joined the International Cricket Council eleven years ago, rose rapidly on cricket horizons in 2009 when they won the right to one-day status by finishing fifth in the World Cup 2011 qualifiers.
They won the qualifying rounds to feature in the World Twenty20 held in the West Indies in 2010 and in the same year won the Inter-Continental Cup for Associate countries before finishing silver medallists at the Asian Games in China.
Cricket, developed through refugees who learned the game while in Pakistan during the Russian invasion in 1979, is now the most sought after game in Afghanistan.
Tim Anderson, ICC global development manager, said Afghanistan's progress is amazing.
"We are delighted with Afghanistan and they are a wonderful story for us to tell how you can overcome the challenges and work through the system," Anderson, a former Australian junior team captain, told reporters.
"We are really excited about Afghanistan and they are making some great grounds in terms of infrastructure development in and around Kabul. They are making some other centers and making good grounds in administration."
Anderson praised the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) for giving Afghanistan an opportunity to play a one-dayer against their team.
"Credit to PCB for allowing Afghanistan to play a one-day and I offer them best wishes in this match as it is important for these growing nations to play bigger teams in order to progress," said Anderson, highlighting China and the United States as other big developing nations.
"ICC tends to talk about China and USA in the same breath, whereas the USA has a significant cricket culture as there is a large Asian and Caribbean community so they take a lot of interest, but China on the other hand has next to no cricket culture.
"The Asian Cricket Council is doing a great job in China by trying to build some momentum, there is a big facility in Guangzhou and having cricket in the Asian Games was a big plus.
"There is definite potential in China but it will take a little while to grow."
The ICC Development Programme was launched in 1997. According to the ICC there are approximately 700,000 male and female participants currently involved in formal cricket programmes outside the Full Member nations.
The ICC has set an ambitious strategic target of more than doubling this number to over 1.5 million participants by 2015.
ICC has ten full, 59 associates and 36 affiliate members. Anderson said the objectives of the development programme were to increase the number of countries.
"The main objective of the development programme is to build the number of countries at the highest level of the game that can be competitive. Afghanistan and Ireland are in that category and on the other hand we have our focus on the grassroots as well," he said, praising the growth of Nepal and Papua New Guinea. (AFP)