Afghanistan prepares to take the first step in the world of cricket

Published: Monday, June 7, 2004, 23:53 [IST]
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Peshawar:A cricket team from war-torn Afghanistan will be dreaming of World Cup glory when they take part in an international tournament for the first time later this week.

Afghanistan's squad leaves for Malaysia on Tuesday where they will join 15 other teams in the Asian Cricket Council Trophy, a pre-qualifier for the 2007 World Cup to be staged in the West Indies.

While few are betting on Afghanistan getting past the first hurdle, captain Allah Dad Noori said the minnows are determined to spring a few surprises as they make their debut on the international stage.

"We are practising in Pakistan in the last phase of our preparation for the pre-qualifying rounds of the 2007 cricket World Cup and warn our opponents we should not be taken lightly," Noori said on Sunday.

The top 16 teams from Asia feature in the ACC Trophy with Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Iran playing for the first time.

The finalists will gain qualification for next year's ICC Trophy to be played in Ireland where five teams will gain World Cup berths.

Afghanistan will play their first match against Oman on June 13, before taking on Hong Kong two days later and then Bahrain on June 16.

"This is a great year for Afghanistan, we are back in the Olympics and have taken good strides in cricket," said Noori, a fast bowler.

His brother Khaliq Dad Noori is a promising all-rounder, Mohammad Karim is an off-spinning all-rounder while Mohammad Nauraz is a solid opener.

"We have also trained in Kabul where cricket is now played just like in Pakistani and Indian cities but five years back this was hard to think of."

Cricket was banned under Afghanistan's hardline Taliban government, but has slowly made a comeback since the toppling of the regime by US-led forces in 2001. There are now more than 3,500 registered cricketers in Afghanistan and league based events are played in 16 provinces.

"We have cricket in schools and in universities and after seeing the interest President Hamid Karzai has lent enormous help by giving salaries to players at various levels," said Noori.

"Cricket was played before as well but the last three years have seen a boom, the streets of Kabul and Khost now hold cricket matches every day," he said. Pakistan, from where the refugees' return boosted cricket in Afghanistan, has promised more help.

"The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) chairman Shaharyar Khan has promised to help us build two grounds - in Kabul and Jalalabad - offered us One-day matches against Pakistan 'A' team, coaching for our boys in Lahore and more cricket equipment."

Afghanistan's cricket team played five One-day matches in Pakistan two years ago and has featured regularly in Pakistan junior cricket since 2002.

"From our first international event we want to learn more and more and in two years time we would be ready to host international teams in our country," said Noori.

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