Afghanistan cricket: From refugee camps to World Cup knockouts

Afghanistan cricket: From refugee camps to World Cup knockouts

Rashid Khan and Mohammad Nabi

Afghanistan continued their dream run in the T20 World Cup as a dramatic victory over Bangladesh helped them to qualify for their first-ever Semi-Final in a World Cup. Despite losing the match to South Africa, It was a brilliant story for the Afghans who faced significant social and political challenges to emerge as a successful cricketing nation.

Gradual growth of Afghanistan cricket

It sounds almost unbelievable now that just around 15 years back, Afghanistan were playing Division Three of the World Cricket League against teams like Cayman Island, Jersey, and Tanzania. Their team mostly consisted of refugees who learned their cricket in various cities of Pakistan. Pakistan did play a critical role in the early development of Afghanistan cricket as many of the Afghan players played in Pakistan and even Afghanistan cricket teams were invited to play in Pakistan’s domestic tournaments like Quaid-e-Azam Trophy.

Although they could not get a chance to qualify for the 2011 Cricket World Cup, they received their ODI status that year and started playing regularly, recording wins against teams like Scotland and the Netherlands. Players like Narooz Mangal and fast bowler Hamid Hasan were their early stars who were later joined by Asghar Afghan and the boy wonder Rashid Khan who made his debut for Afghanistan in 2016 as a 16-year-old.

Mohammad Nabi: The one who has stayed

Also, they have Mohammad Nabi, the mainstay of Afghanistan cricket for the better part of the last two decades. Mohammad Nabi alone deserves a special place in Afghan cricket history who was there in their entire journey making important contributions more often than not. The testimony of Nabi’s role in Afghan cricket’s upliftment is visible in the fact that he was part of the winning Afghanistan team against 45 different countries. This is a truly remarkable list which started with countries like Denmark and Saudi Arabia and now includes big guns like New Zealand and Australia which they achieved over the last 3 weeks in the T20 World Cup.

It was not only Nabi, but Afghanistan as a team made their first mark when they beat the eventual champion West Indies in the 2016 T20 World Cup. It was a great win for a nation just starting their journey in the big league but they were never content and always looked to achieve new heights. They gradually lifted their game and started to win against fellow Asian sides Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. The inclusion of Rashid Khan’s Leg spin was a big weapon for them and made them a mercurial side.

Minnows, not anymore!

They got their Test status in 2018 and although they started with a thrashing from India, they won their second and third Test matches against Ireland and Bangladesh. They also showed a glimpse of their progress in the 2023 World Cup when they registered their first-ever victories over England and Pakistan.

The current Afghanistan squad is a dangerous team, especially in the Asian conditions thanks to their attacking batters like Rahmanullah Gurbaz, and Ibrahim Zadran and spinners like Rashid, Nabi, and Noor Ahmed. Now they also have two handy fast bowlers in Naveen-ul-Haq and Fazalhaq Farooqi and all-rounders like Gulbadin Naib and Azmatullah Omarzai who have now converted them into a more rounded cricket team with a very strong bowling attack. In this World Cup currently, three Afghan bowlers are part of the top 5 wicket-takers list.

The growth of Afghan cricket is also evident in the number of Afghan players playing in various T20 leagues. Rashid Khan and Mohammad Nabi are global stars playing in every league starting from IPL to BBL to CPL to PSL. But even players like Gurbaz and Naveen are also joining these lists pretty quickly and almost the entire first eleven of the Afghanistan T20 team are well sought-after players by the different franchises for different leagues. Even players from established teams like Bangladesh and Sri Lanka fail to get that much interest.

It’s just the beginning!

And the Afghan players showed that they deserved to be highly rated with their performance in this tournament. The kind of determination and application they displayed in their wins over Australia and Bangladesh was exemplary. They wanted to make a mark, especially against the Australian whom they could have beaten in the 2023 World Cup barring that legendary innings from Glenn Maxwell.

The Afghanistan cricket team are on the rise. They are here to stay. The consistency they have shown throughout the tournament, no wonder quite a few fans expected them to beat South Africa in the semi-final and make it to the final. Despite the results, they will keep their heads high and dream big. As Rashid Khan mentioned after their win over Bangladesh, this team has brought a war-torn country together and inspired the next generation of young cricketers to chase their dreams. This belief will be the biggest gain for this ever-improving cricket team.

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