Afghanistan’s qualification for the 2015 World Cup is a triumph of human spirit, a huge moment for the country

Afghanistan qualified for the ICC World Cup 2015 after beating Kenya in an ICC World Cricket League Championship match © AFP

Afghanistan qualified for the ICC World Cup 2015 when they beat Kenya by seven wickets in an ICC World Cricket League Championship encounter at Sharjah. It is a moment they have been waiting for since they began their cricketing journey a decade ago. The qualification not only takes their cricket to a new level, but it is a huge moment for the country. Sudatta Mukherjee looks at Afghanistan’s most important cricketing moment.

Afghanistan is a land of beautiful terrain, numerous rivers, and a rich heritage dating back centuries. However, their recent history has been tumultuous as decades long war-like situations marred the beautiful land and left it reeling. What role would sport have in such a country? It does symoblise hope and can be a great unifying factor.
 
Having been through all those nightmares, Afghanistan have finally achieved the unthinkable, which is arguably their biggest ever achievement in recent times — qualifying for the ICC World Cup 2015. They did feature in the ICC World T20s in 2010 and 2012, but making the cut for the mega-event is a much bigger boost for a country that is still recovering after years of war.
 
The ‘country is expected to come to a complete standstill’, believes Noor Mohammad Murad, the chief of the Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB). One can surely understand the emotional intensity of the situation.
 
After forming their board in 1995, Afghanistan became an affiliate member of International Cricket Council (ICC) in 2001. Cricket was initially played by Afghan refugees in Pakistan. However, like any other sport in the country, it was initially frowned upon by the Taliban. But, it became an exception later on. Over the years, the team made rapid strides, climbing the ladder from the smaller World Cricket League divisions, to come into contention for the ICC World Cup 2011. However, they failed to qualify and had to wait until 2013 to fulfill their dream.
 
It was during ICC World T20 2010 in the Caribbean, when they earned the chance to play in a major tournament. They were placed in a group comprising India and South Africa. Although, they lost both their games, they did show what they were made of, giving a small scare or two to South Africa. Two years later, they returned to play the same tournament in Sri Lanka and came very close to India’s total.
 
India had posted 159 for five from 20 overs. Afghanistan reached 136 in 19.3 overs. It was evident that they were making good progress having played the odd One-Day International (ODI) against the bigger teams.
 
Afghanistan had already taken a major step when they played those World T20s. However, they deserved much more, especially because of the way they have grown in cricket — from fighters in the smaller leagues to rise to the highest level in limited-overs cricket.
 
“It has been my dream to play in a World Cup. To play in a World Cup in Australia and New Zealand would be the perfect icing on the cake,” Afghan captain Mohammad Nabi told The New York Times earlier this week. This is the same man, whose father was abducted by unknown gunmen. This man took up cricket, while living in refugee camps in Pakistan. Consider this, former Afghanistan captain Raees Ahmadzai told CricketCountry, “We started playing cricket in our camp. We had no proper bats or balls and we used shoes and a wall as our stumps.” Wow! Imagine starting from there and then competing on the world stage.”
 
What this tells us is that for Afghanistan, cricket is not just a sport. They grew up in refugee camps, playing cricket. Cricket has perhaps helped them take their mind off all the turmoil in their country — something that doesn’t seem to die down. It was their hope of stepping into a totally new world, where they won’t be seen as a country struggling to come to terms with an unstable internal situation. Cricket commentator Harsha Bhogle tweeted on Thursday night, “Just pause and imagine what it will mean to them.”
 
Sometimes, sport can play a much bigger role! Ahmadzai said, “I believe cricket can bring peace and unity amongst our people as it is getting increasingly popular amongst our youngsters.”
 
(Sudatta Mukherjee is a reporter with CricketCountry. Other than writing on cricket, she spends penning random thoughts on her blog and produces weekly posts on new food joints at Whopping Weekends. She played Table Tennis for University of Calcutta. When she is not writing, you will catch her at a movie theatre or watching some English serial on her laptop. Her Twitter id is @blackrosegal)