Afghanistan’s ICC World Cup 2015 qualification to be celebrated in Kabul

Afghanistan qualified for the ICC World Cup 2015 © AFP

Kabul: Oct 12, 2013
Huge crowds were expected to throng Kabul on Saturday as the war-battered city gives a heroes’ welcome to Afghanistan‘s cricketers after they qualified for the ICC World Cup 2015.
The returning players will be met by an official reception at the airport before being driven through the city to the cricket stadium, where celebrations will include music and speeches.
The sport only became popular in Afghanistan as refugees flooded back from Pakistan after the fall of the Taliban in 2001, and the team’s ascent to the top international level is seen as a symbol of hope and national unity.
“Everyone welcome — Welcome our heroes home!” appealed publicity material for the event, which will pose a security challenge in a city regularly targeted by Taliban militant attacks.
Suicide bombers have struck at several high-profile targets in Kabul this year, including the presidential palace, the Supreme Court and the airport.
But the Afghan capital celebrated another sporting success last month when the national football side won its first ever trophy, beating India in Nepal to lift the South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) cup.
That victory was marked by fans unleashing long bursts of gunfire into the night sky.
When Afghanistan beat Kenya by seven wickets in Sharjah a week ago, cheering supporters drove cars at high-speed through the city while passengers waved the national flag.
The victory booked the team a place in the ICC World Cup 2015, which will be held in Australia and New Zealand, and also triggered a $1million windfall to help the team to prepare to face the world’s best players.
Afghanistan is drawn in the same group as four-time champions Australia, New Zealand, England, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and one other qualifier.
Leading the celebrations on Saturday after the plane lands in Kabul at 4:00pm (1130 GMT) will be captain Mohammad Nabi, who hit the winning runs against Kenya.
Like many of his teammates, the 28-year-old Nabi learned cricket in a refugee camp in Pakistan after his parents fled Afghanistan in the wake of the 1979 Soviet invasion.
Cricket has boomed since the 1996-2001 Taliban era despite a bloody insurgency, and games are now a regular sight on any piece of open ground ranging from scruffy city parks to rural roads.
President Hamid Karzai watched the match against Kenya and later sent his congratulations to the side.
Afghanistan, who have twice played in the Twenty20 World Cup, became an affiliate member of the International Cricket Council (ICC) in 2001 and an associate member earlier this year.
A Taliban spokesman told AFP that the Islamist militants had no comment on the team’s success.