Afghan cricketers waiting to scale new peaks

Published: Sunday, October 30, 2005, 23:53 [IST]
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Kabul:Irfan Pathan, who is creating ripples with his devastating bowling and breathtaking batting in the ongoing cricket One-dayers against Sri Lanka, may soon have to face Mohammed Kaif from a rival team.

Young Kaif is not the middle order knocker one is familiar in India but an upcoming 15-year-old batsman in war-ravaged Afghanistan.

Cricket fever is gradually gripping this nation and more and more youngsters are aspiring to build a strong Afghan cricket team to play international matches.

One reason for the popularity of the game is the return of a large number of Afghan refugees from neighbouring cricket-loving Pakistan.

Football has been now relegated to the number two sport.

Though the Afghan national cricket team was formed in 1995 soon after the withdrawal of the Soviet forces, the sport could not be advanced because of Taliban elements getting a foothold in Afghanistan.

With the exit of the Taliban forces, cricket has started to flourish with the country now boasting of having over 300 registered clubs and a cricket academy, which was recently opened here.

Work has commenced to start a national cricket stadium of world standards.

The Afghan team has slowly started making its presence felt. It defeated Malaysia and Bahrain in a recent tournament in Dubai. "We are knocking at the doors of world cricket," Taj Malik Alam, General Secretary of the Afghanistan Cricket Federation and national coach, told PTI as he watched the under-15 boys enthusiastically undertake gruelling four to five hours of practice sessions even while observing day-long Ramzan fast.

Pinch hitter Karim Sadiq is popularly known as Virender Sehwag of Afghanistan and Alam proudly says the youngster has the ability to play big knocks. Sadiq has four centuries to his credit including two in Pakistan's domestic cricket.

The national team has four spinners and an equal number of all-rounders and two fast bowlers with a speed of 140-145 kms.

Sachin Tendulkar is looked upon by many as their idol with teenagers trying to copy shots played by him during net sessions.

"We want to play with India which has legends like Gavaskar, Tendulkar, Ganguly and Sehwag. Even an exhibition match will boost our morale," Alam said.

Alam said the national team was now striving to secure a berth in the Asia Cup by finishing in the first two positions in the ACC Trophy qualifiers.

"The two finalists will play in the Asia Cup alongwith teams like Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh," Alam said adding "our aim is to beat Pakistan as President Hamid Karzai has promised to give a Toyota vehicle to each member of the team if we do so." He said that the under-15 team has now got a sponsor, Standard Chartered Bank, which went to show that the game was picking up in the country.

The under-15 team, he said, has been picked up from a huge list of 700 aspirants across the country, who had appeared for the trials.

But a cherished dream for the Afghan team has still remained unfulfilled, to play a match against India.

He said he had mentioned this proposal to Sourav Ganguly sometime back in Kolkata and also to BCCI Vice-President Rajiv Shukla who had welcomed it but nothing has materialised so far.

Giving an account of the cricket infrastructure available in the country, he said that the Asian Cricket Council (ACC) was giving a grant of USD 70,000 per annum for ground development, equipment and physical fitness of the cricketers.

Alam said the country has five umpires, 18 coaches for ground curators trained by ACC in conjunction with Cricket Australia.

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