Afghanistan calls for support

Having qualified for its first World Cup, Afghanistan needs more support from the traditional Asian cricketing nations in order to develop its national team further, according to a top official of the Afghanistan Cricket Board. Afghanistan defeated Kenya by seven wickets in a decisive qualifier to reach the 2015 World Cup, setting off mass celebrations in the country. But ACB chief executive Noor Mohammad Murad criticized the traditional Asian cricket powers for failing to help the team over the past years, saying India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh have all failed to respond to his requests to set up games. He said Pakistan is the only Asian country to support the Afghans, despite dealing with its own security problems. Pakistan's second-string team played a one-day series against Afghanistan last year and the Pakistan Cricket Board allowed a team from Afghanistan to play in its domestic Twenty20 tournament.

Murad was especially critical of the Bangladesh Cricket Board. "I'm very disappointed in the way we have not been provided a chance by Bangladesh," Murad said. "I've been approaching them since one and half years, but no response. I've met their chairman, I've met their COOs (Chief Operating Officers), I mean all their officials. In the meeting I try to convince them but after the meeting nothing happens." Murad has also approached Sri Lanka through the International Cricket Council without any success while he's also still waiting for a response from India. I'm not going to wait anymore and will approach each of these countries again and again, especially Sri Lanka, Pakistan and India because we don't have hope from Bangladesh anymore," Murad said. "We are very disappointed the way Bangladesh has been handling us. I think Afghanistan is in a very good position to play with Bangladesh and Zimbabwe and even beat them in some matches because of the talent we are having."

Pakistan has not hosted any foreign team since gunmen attacked the Sri Lanka team bus in Lahore four years ago. Murad sees Afghanistan as a country which could attract large crowds if Pakistan organizes a full-fledged one-day or Twenty20 series against Afghanistan in a city like Lahore. "If you give proper advocacy to these matches I think hundreds of thousands of (Afghan) refugees living in Pakistan will come and watch the match," he said. "Afghanistan can give a tough time to the Pakistan team — especially in ODIs and Twenty20s and you will give a good message to the world that it is still a very good international venue." Murad said he has presented the idea to both the ICC and Pakistan cricket officials. "I am still waiting for a response from the Pakistan side, hopefully it will come soon," he said.

The ICC has chalked out a comprehensive plan for both World Cup qualifiers — Ireland and Afghanistan which include tours to European countries. The ICC has said in a statement that it will give $1 million to the ACB as preparation fee for the World Cup. The game's governing body also gave $422,000 to the ACB in April as part of its Targeted Assistance and Performance Program, aimed at raising playing standards. Next year, the ACB is also scheduled to receive further $750,000 in base support through the ICC Development Funding Policy. The ACB is also in negotiations with Zimbabwe to play a one-day series and Murad hopes that will be finalized in the coming months. Afghanistan has also tried to play in the Asia Cup — a 50-over format tournament — for the last four years, but so far they have been kept out of the event. "Australia and England are providing a chance to European countries by playing against Scotland and Ireland so it's the responsibility of the Asian countries to at least allow us to play in Asia Cup," Murad said. "I've raised this issue in the AGM (Annual General Meeting) of the ICC but I've not been provided any answer."

Afghanistan's remarkable journey to the World Cup qualification began in 2008 when it played in the Division 5 event — the lowest ranked ICC tournament. According to Murad, the country of 30 million has 280,000 registered players, who either play with taped tennis balls or the leather cricket balls. "We have quite a number of talented youngsters and you might see three to four new legs when the team plays in the World Cup," Murad said. He said Afghanistan has around nine grounds with turf pitches. There are two main stadiums in the capital Kabul and Jalalabad while cities in north like Mazar-i-Sharif and Kunduz also have grounds with turf pitches.

And the base of cricket is also expanding in Afghanistan with 32 provincial teams and five regional teams, playing in one-dayers, Twenty20 and three-day matches. Now Afghanistan is also planning to host Tajikistan — an affiliate member of the ICC. "We have donated some cricket equipment to them and we will be inviting their national team to play against our A teams and regionals teams," Murad said. Murad is seeing historic qualification to the World Cup as the beginning of a new journey for Afghanistan. "I was telling to my boys in the meeting yesterday that it's not the end, in fact it's the start of a new phase because we've been beating associate members with good margins and that is a good indication that we can do better playing against a full member."