Afghanistan cricketers have impressed one and all © AFP
Mirpur: Mar 5, 2014
They may be tournament-debutantes but Afghanistan have managed to impress one and all with their resolute and sprightly performances in the Asia Cup 2014, redefining heroism for the war-ravaged nation.
“Cricket is changing the war-ravaged Afghanistan for better. For the today’s youth, the heroes have changed. It’s no more the war mafias but the cricketing heroes who’s shaping their lives,” Afghanistan journalist Matiullah Abid Noor, who is here to cover the Asia Cup for the Voice of America, told PTI.
It’s the same Afghanistan team which sought the Indian team members’ autographs four years ago during their maiden World Twenty20 appearance in the West Indies.
“It was their first ever meeting with their icons. The likes of Mahendra Sing Dhoni and Yuvraj Singh meant huge to them,” the 40-year-old journalist, who is based in Washington, said.
“Our wicketkeeper Mohammad Shahzad is a great fan of Dhoni and calls himself ‘MS’. He even has a Dhoni-like hairstyle.”
Afghanistan made their biggest leap yet qualifying for the World Cup 2015 after finishing second behind Ireland in the World Cricket League that was held in Sharjah in October last year.
Afghanistan have not looked back since then as they recorded their first ever win over a Test side, when they defeated Bangladesh by 32 runs here on March 1.
“The qualification was one great thing to have happened for the country. Apart from getting cash incentives, the cricketers were given flats. It’s cricket, cricket everywhere now. Such has been the impact that the youth are busy playing cricket now. They don’t have time for other antisocial activities.”
“Three decades ago, Afghanistan used to be all about mafia, drug dealing, terrorism. But cricket is changing the country for good. Hamid Hassan, Shapoor Zadran are their heroes now,” Noor said.
“The President, Hamid Karzai, is a big fan of cricket. In fact he spoke to the team after their historic win against Bangladesh.”
It has been a remarkable journey for Afghanistan who were playing in the ICC World Cricket League Division 5 in 2008. In 2010, they qualified for the World Twenty20 West Indies 2010 by winning the World Twenty20 Qualifier UAE 2010.
They then finished second to Ireland in the World Twenty20 Qualifier UAE 2012 to qualify for the World Twenty20 Sri Lanka 2012. Afghanistan finished runners-up a second time to Ireland at the qualifying event in 2013 to make it to this year’s World Twenty20 in Bangladesh.
Afghanistan are clubbed with Bangladesh in group A and they kick off the tournament on March 16 in the qualifying round. Group A and B toppers will make the main round and Afghanistan now have their eyes on the premier tournament. In such a case, the host nation would strangely be not playing the tournament.
“As our coach [Kabir Khan] has already said, Afghanistan will be a force to reckon with in the shortest format, especially after our win against Bangladesh. I’m sure they will live up to the fast and furious tag.”