Sunday, May 2, 2010

Afghanistan on the world stage in cricket

Stan and deliver: Ashgar Stanikzai, the Afghanistan all-rounder, sends Mahendra Singh Dhoni behind the wicket a message of his aggressive intent in an innings of 30. Photo: Independent Newspaper 

Afghanistan 115-8 India 116-3 (India win by seven wickets): MCC see faith rewarded as the world game's most unlikely newcomers show great promise in losing against India

It is such a joy to read the papers, scan the websites and to watch on TV, Afghanistan getting good publicity for its cricketing skills.

Afghanistan made their debut in international cricket at St Lucia yesterday, which was remarkable, as Dr Johnson said of seeing a dog walking on it hind legs, because you are surprised to find it done at all. Less than a decade ago Afghanistan did not have a cricket team. It had some cricketers but most of them were stuck in refugee camps in northern Pakistan, after their families had fled from the Russian invasion in 1979. When they came home they brought cricket with them, and they have proved remarkably quick learners

Robin Marlar, when he was President of MCC in 2005-06 took up their cause, becoming one of the Godfathers of Afghan cricket, and he detected early on qualities of innocence and physical ability, a lack of inhibition backed by fearlessness in Afghanistani cricketers. They needed all these qualities yesterday on a sunny morning at the Beausejour ground in St Lucia on the second day of the World T20 tournament, and they did not disgrace themselves.

India, the experienced masters of the T20 game, won by seven wickets, needing fewer than 15 overs to reach the target. But the performance needs to be seen in the context of the past two years. In 2008 Afghanistan were admitted to the fifth division of the leagues organised for ICC affiliated and associated members There is plenty of competition at this level, and they moved smoothly up the leagues, just failing to qualify for next year's World Cup, but beating Abu Dhabi to qualify for the T20 competition in the West Indies. Thanks to Stephen Fay of the Independent for permission to run this article.