I am rooting for Afghanistan and I cannot help it. The Afghans have taken the world of cricket by storm. Relatively speaking of course. Some say they only started playing cricket in 2001 but that is not entirely true.
Afghanistan plot how they will take their next wicket en route to qualifying for the 2015 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. Photo credit: Paul Kane-Getty Images
While it is factual that the Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB) joined the International Cricket Council (ICC) in 2001 as an Affiliate before becoming an Associate member in 2013, the sport has been played in the Asian country since the 19th century. We have the British empire to thank for that but the Taliban banned the game once upon a time before becoming the only sport to be approved by that organisation in 2000. Perhaps the greatest decision ever taken by the Taliban. The sport actually became popular among Afghan refugees in Pakistan and this is what sparked cricket’s revival.
The side is currently ranked ninth in Twenty20 Internationals and 10th in One Day Internationals by the ICC. You might argue that they are hardly any different to Bangladesh, Kenya, Zimbabwe and/or Ireland, depending on what time in history you wish to refer to, but consider this country’s bloody history, and I find it impossible not to want nothing but the best for them.
Afghanistan has grown into a top 10 cricket nation in both limited overs formats.
The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan has a population of around 32.5 million as at a 2015 estimate and a GDP of approximately US$65 billion. That GDP number is nowhere near the likes of Bangladesh or Sri Lanka’s numbers, roughly ten times higher, but then neither of those two countries have been ravaged by war and civil war for the last four decades. From a series of coups in the 1970s to Soviet invasion to cruel Taliban rule to being bombed by the Americans in the early 21st century, this country has seen enough blood for just about eternity. What a great story this is of their national cricket team rising from those ashes to become a competitive cricket nation.
Hamid Hasan in action for Afghanistan. Photo credit: DIBYANGSHU SARPAR-AFP-Getty Images
Pakistan has played a crucial role in the development of Afghan cricket. The national team made its debut in Pakistani domestic cricket and the Pakistan Cricket Board has also made available facilities, funding and other developmental avenues to their neighbours. The Pakistanis deserve tremendous credit for the “Big Brother” role they have played to date.
Already Afghanistan has reached each of the last four World Twenty20 competitions, failing to reach the second stage only once, and made its debut at the 50-over Cricket World Cup last year, defeating Scotland along the way. The ICC has a glorious opportunity here, not only to assist a nation desperately in need of some good news, but also to increase the profile, exposure and overall player base of the great sport of cricket.
The joy, passion and enthusiasm of the Afghans is infectious.
To say the ICC errs on the side of caution when it comes to promoting teams to Test status is a very conservative viewpoint. The world body borders on being archaic and draconian. Yes, it is there to promote the game and do what is best for the sport but when it has clearly stated its dream of growing the game globally, then the rise to Test status of Afghanistan is something that must be on the agenda. It is true that touring that country is currently a risk but if Pakistan can play home games in the United Arab Emirates then so can the Afghans. I am not saying they must be promoted to Test status immediately but I am calling for Afghanistan to be encouraged and assisted and given every opportunity possible to make Test status a reality.
Hamid Hasan celebrates Afghanistan’s maiden ICC Cricket World Cup victory against Scotland in 2015.
A trick was missed with Kenya after 2003 and while that was largely thanks to the Kenyan board squandering and plundering the chance, the world missed out on Steve Tikolo and Maurice Odumbe, among others, displaying their talents in the sport’s most testing environment. In the last two decades the Kenyans are an example of a side that could have made it and of course there is also Ireland.
Afghanistan celebrates taking a wicket at the ICC World Twenty20 in India in 2016.
The Irish and the Afghans should be playing Test cricket sooner rather than later. Ireland has shown it is ready and Afghanistan has displayed tremendous potential. Come on ICC, let’s make this happen.