The concoction in which the seeds of Afghan cricket were first sown almost touches the edges of a fantasy tale, a David-Goliath struggle that a decade ago was not real enough even for dreams.
Yet, the phenomenal upward curve that Afghans have conjured in the world of cricket, culminating in their qualifying for 2015’s ODI World Cup down under, already deserves a celebration, an exultation of spirit over limits, of will over debacles.
From the World Cricket League Division Five to playing for what is probably cricket’s greatest prize, in six years, the Afghanistan team and its coach Kabir Khan deserve a trophy of their own already.
Afghanistan has come a long way, first qualifying for the 2010 ICC World T20 and now following it up by qualifying for the 50-over version. It is no fluke, considering they beat Kenya comprehensively and on more than one occasion, the latter team continuing on its downward spiral the peak they achieved in the 2003 World Cup under Sandeep Patil’s coaching.
Afghanistan justifies their presence on cricket’s biggest stage by registering wins over all the Associate nations, teams that one could safely say, have been fortunate with better resources and hold a longer track record playing the game.
Beating Canada, Hong Kong, Kenya, Netherlands and the UAE was one thing. However, Afghanistan’s biggest achievement includes their performances against two Test-playing nations – Bangladesh and Zimbabwe.
The journey began as the Afghan Cricket Club, which was fortunate enough to be allowed to play against other clubs in Pakistan. Under the guidance of Taj Malik, a man of feverish enthusiasm and competitive spirit, the ICC Affiliate Membership followed, allowing the Afghanistan team to slug it out against other associate cricketing nations more often.
They have been racking wins as well consistently at that level.
The runners-up at ICC World Twenty20 Qualifiers in 2012 and 2013, Afghanistan skyrocketed from being Division Five winners and Division Four winners in 2008 to Division Three Winners in 2009 and eventually Championship runners-up from 2011-13 in the World Cricket League.
They are also the latest winners of the Asian Cricket Council Twenty20 Trophy in 2014.
The first big boost in the ODI world came in the form of Afghanistan’s victory over Bangladesh in the Asia Cup in February 2014. Afghanistan managed to win that match comprehensively by 32 runs with contributions from Asghar Stanikzai, one of their consistent run-scorers and Mohammad Nabi, their leading all-rounder who also leads their run-scoring charts.
Currently the captain of the national team, Nabi also played in the Bangladesh Premier League for Sylhet Royals.
In a recently concluded series, Afghanistan managed to down another Test-playing nation, Zimbabwe. Trailing by two games in the ODI series, Afghanistan came back to level the series, besides also winning an unofficial Test match.
Their performance won enough hearts to let them take the trophy home on the basis of points and performance. It could also be a step that brings funds into the nation’s cricket.
India’s $1million aid for a stadium construction could be a big step in encouraging cricket in Afghanistan. Afghan players will also have the benefit of a camp in Dubai in September to prepare for the World Cup next year.
Coach Kabir Khan, who played four Tests and 10 ODIs for Pakistan, has held the team's hand during their toughest time and after quitting once and being brought back, has the assurance of minimal meddling from the administrators.
Interestingly, Afghanistan now also has a women’s team and an Under-19 cricket team, which can only help snowball more interest for the game in the country, a great means of uniting a land rife with armed tension.
Like Kabir points out, playing on bouncy Australian tracks is a challenge for the best of the teams. But with Bangladesh and Scotland in their group, Afghanistan will hope to pull their weight against the two nations, in the very least.
In the first half of this decade, Afghanistan has repeatedly punched above its weight, surging at a pace hardly seen in the cricketing league circuit.
An upset or two on cricket’s biggest stage coming from them, would paint their already glorified romance with the game in much brighter hues and that is what fans would hope for as well, given their sheer fervour for the game.
© Cricket World 2014