Thursday, 22 March 2012

Good news in Afghanistan

No, this has nothing to do with the occupation, but to do with the Afghanistan cricket team. In short, they have just effectively won a tournament for teams who aren't test-playing nations. Their early qualification in the T20 World Cup Qualifying Tournament is huge, out of the 14 best teams who don't play test cricket, they are the first to secure one of two berths in the World Cup.

To do this, they had to beat the Netherlands, a team that has made multiple appearances at World Cups in the past, Namibia, a team who went through their group unbeaten and have also played at World Cups, Canada, who are 2nd only to the West Indies in the Americas, and 5 other sides. 8 wins from 8 games. A flash in the pan team would have not been able to do this so clinically and consistently. They also qualified ahead of Ireland, seen as by far the most likely candidate to be the next team to gain test status.

What makes this effort all the more remarkable, is that in organisational terms Afghanistan cricket is a level below many other teams at this qualifying event. Non-test playing nations are segregated into associate members of the ICC and below that affiliate members. Afghanistan is in the 2nd category. They barely ever get to play against top teams. In February Afghanistan played Pakistan in a one off match, and it was the first time an affiliate team had played a full member in an ODI. It is almost like Afghan cricket developed in isolation and evolved on it's own.

The ICC has a big decision to make. Is it now time to elevate Afghanistan a level to associate status? I would wholeheartedly say yes. They have proven themselves to be the best of the rest, and success should be recognised by the ICC. Cricket in Afghanistan is perfectly placed to be a growth sport, geographically the nation is surrounded by cricket in Pakistan, Bangladesh and India, as well as having a population which seems to come together over cricket. Famously, even the Taliban were cheering on Afghanistan when they played Pakistan. The ICC should act quickly to consolidate these gains and bring Afghanistan further into the fold of cricket playing nations.

The effect of this could go beyond the sport itself. It is undeniable that matches between India and Pakistan are powerful forces for good in the region. When the teams played in the World Cup the leaders of each country attended and met, something that would be unthinkable without a good pretext. Cricket can provide an opportunity for enemies to meet as friends. Perhaps this is just what Afghanistan needs.

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