Afghan fans should be very proud of their national cricket team regardless of the lack of success in the ICC World T20 Cup 2014. The past year has been pivotal in the development of Afghanistan cricket and the impact of the game, both locally and internationally, is huge. Fourteen years of commitment to cricket from Afghanistan Cricket Board players and officials are bearing fruit in a very visible way.
The development of cricket in Afghanistsan is remarkable for two reasons: Firstly, Afghanistan has achieved its high level of performance in a shorter period than any other country in the history of world cricket, reaching two world cups in only 14 years; and, secondly, because this has taken place in an environment of war and turmoil.
Afghanistan has had continuous instability for the past 35 years. It began with the Russian invasion in 1979 and continues today. Until the arrival of America and her allies in 2001, people outside of Afghanistan heard little of the sufferings of the ordinary Afghan people that had already been ongoing for 20 years. Since the American arrival, western media has taken an interest and portrayed a consistent picture of the horrors of war, violence, terrorism and corruption.
The rollercoaster development of cricket and its national and international successes has caught the imagination of western media. Afghanistan cricket has had huge coverage internationally over recent months. The coverage is by far the biggest and most positive news coming out of the still-war-torn country. The dream-come-true story of the young cricketers growing up in Pakistan’s refugee camps and now playing international cricket has become legendary, if a little clichéd.
The impact of those stories, however, is not a cliché: Cricket is giving a new face to Afghanistan in the international community and is humanising the view the world has of the country and its people.
As millions watched Afghanistan battling against and defeating Bangladesh in the Asia Cup 2014 they did not think about war, terrorism or corruption. In the World T20 matches as well, people saw dedicated young Afghan players putting their hearts and souls into striving to compete at the international level.
Television commentators during the tournament were clear in their perception that, despite defeats, the Afghanistan National Team is not far away from becoming a major competitor in global cricket.
The development of Afghan cricket is also having a significant impact at home.
After those 35 years of seemingly endless turmoil, people still have a passionate love for their country but they are tired of war. Around 75% of the population is under the age of 35, according to the United Nations. These young people have never experienced a peaceful Afghanistan in their lifetimes. They look with envy at other peaceful countries and some still wish they could escape to a better, more stable life.
Cricket is stimulating long-needed national unity and pride within the country.
Almost every family in Afghanistan has experienced death, injury or violence. All experience the stress and tension of wondering what the future holds. The vast majority of people are poor, lack education, employment and adequate health care. This, along with the ongoing insurgency, means there is not a lot to smile or be happy about.
Cricket is making people smile and giving them something to celebrate.
10 Things to Make Afghans Proud
- In June 2013, 12 years of commitment to cricket’s development saw the International Cricket Council elevating the Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB) from Affiliate to Associate Membership. The country had moved from almost no cricket to that membership in a shorter timeframe than any other country in the history of the game.
- Late in 2013, the ACB began the construction of the new Afghanistan National Cricket Academy. This will become the focus of the technical skill development of the national players and will be a strong foundation for future developments. Early in 2014, the ACB secured the services of Australia coach, Peter Anderson, to head the new academy. Over the past two years he has led Papua New Guinea to some inspiring successes.
- In July, the ACB signed a memorandum of understanding with the Afghanistan Ministry of Education that will see cricket introduced in to the curriculum of all schools across the country. This will have momentous effects upon the development of the game in Afghanistan in coming years.
- The National Team won 26 of its 28 matches against other Associate and Affiliate members, excluding the matches against Ireland who remain Afghanistan’s chief nemesis outside of the full member nations.
- In the World Cricket League Championship, Afghanistan finished second to Ireland qualifying for the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 being hosted by Australia and New Zealand. This will be their first 50-overs ICC Global Event.
- They qualified for the ICC World Twenty20 2014 with a 34-run victory over Kenya at Sharjah. Leg-spinner, Samiullah Shenwari, took three man-of-the-match awards and received the player of the tournament award. He took the third highest number of wickets in the tournament.
- Bangladesh, a full member of the ICC, fell to Afghanistan in the Asia Cup 2014 – embarrassing, no doubt, as Bangladesh were the hosts of the tournament. In the opening match of the World Twenty20 2014, Bangladesh took their revenge solidly beating the Afghans. This, however, did not take away the significance and symbolic nature of Afghanistan defeating a Test Cricket playing, full member country.
- In the Asian Cricket Council’s (ACC) Under-19 Elite Cup 2013, the Afghanistan Under-19 National Team won the Cup without the loss of a match and convincingly defeating Saudi Arabia, UAE and Hong Kong in the group stage, then crushing Malaysia in the Semi Final and defeating UAE in the Final by 10 wickets.
- In the ACC’s Under-19 Asia Cup 2014, the Under-19 Team made it to the Semi-Final having defeated Sri Lanka by 3 wickets and Malaysia by 10 wickets in the group stage. They lost the Semi Final to Pakistan by two wickets in a creditable performance. The win against Sri Lanka, a Test Playing, full member nation, was a major achievement.
- At the ICC Under-19 World Cup in February 2014 the Under-19 National Team defeated Australia in the opening group matches, topping their group and entering the quarter finals as the only non-full member to qualify. South Africa and the West Indies defeated them, but Afghanistan defeated Sri Lanka in their last match. The defeat of Australia and Sri Lanka were significant. Australia had won the event three times and Sri Lanka were one of the top contenders this year.