Afghanistan and Norway dream of 2011 edition

Published: Sunday, March 11, 2007, 23:53 [IST]
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Paris :It may sound far-fetched, but war-torn Afghanistan and ski-crazy Norway are dreaming about playing in the 2011 Cricket World Cup.

On paper, the odds are against them.

They would have to win numerous promotions in the World Cricket League to get near the qualifiers but overcoming the odds is second nature to these two teams.

Afghanistan players learnt the game as refugees in Pakistan; the Norwegian team, mostly made up of the sons of Pakistani expatriates, is sponsored by a Tandoori restaurant.

Shahzada Masoud, president of the Afghanistan Cricket Federation (ACF), warns that his side should not be underestimated and likes to recall a tale of when the national side toured England.

"When we visited the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst there were Afghan cadets in the academy who said that people were actually laughing about the fact that we were coming to play cricket against them," said Masoud.

"And then Afghanistan won. After beating the MCC in India earlier in the year this was good. The better the team, the better we play."

Despite having Pakistan as a neighbour, cricket has been slow to catch on in Afghanistan. It was a situation not helped by the fact that the former Taliban regime banned all sport.

There are also historical reasons.

"The English were never able to conquer the country," said Masoud.

"Even years ago while cricket was being played in Pakistan there was obviously no TV coverage and so most people got information and commentary only through the radio.

"I think it caught on during the 1987 World Cup in Pakistan where there was coverage. People who fled the Russian rule in Afghanistan went to Pakistan and either lived in camps across the border or assimilated into places like Peshawar, Rawalpindi and Lahore.

"Many Afghans share a common heritage with people like (Pakistan internationals) Shahid Afridi who is a big hero to the Afghans, Younis Khan and even Imran Khan, who is believed to be an Afghan from his mother's family."

Masoud believes that if Afghanistan returns to something resembling stability, the game could flourish.

But he recognises that the authorities in Kabul have rather more pressing matters to deal with.

"Basic needs like roads, hospitals, schools obviously need to come first," he said.

"But I can see a very bright future for cricket in Afghanistan and maybe in the next ten years we will be able to have at least five good grounds. The ultimate goal would be to play against Test-playing nations and maybe even qualify for the 2011 World Cup."

Thousands of miles away in chilly Oslo, it is -10 degrees Celsius (14 Fahrenheit) but inside a sports hall, Norway's restaurant-sponsored national cricket team is sweating it out at their weekly practice.

"So far, we have lost only six matches out of 40. As chief selector, I have done my job," Khalid Mahmood, 47, proudly tells AFP.

Playing cricket for Norway is far from easy. Finances are tight.

Norway's official backer is Oslo's Shalimar Tandoori restaurant.

The team runs on a yearly budget of about 150,000 Norwegian kroner (18,490 euros, 24,420 dollars), financed mainly by subscriptions.

And players have trouble getting hold of the right kit.

"There are no cricket shops in Norway. We have to buy our equipment on the Internet or when we visit Pakistan," says Safir Hayat, a 25-year-old economics student.

Can the team win the World Cup?

"Maybe one day, when I am old," laughs player and waiter Sheraz Khalid, 21. He pauses and then adds: "I don't know if we can, but then you never know with cricket."

The likes of Afghanistan and Norway will find out where they stand in the sport in 2008 when they play in Division Five of the World Cricket League.


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