In two very short years Afghanistan have shot into focus in the cricketing world, from playing in Division 5 of world cricket in 2008, in Jersey of all places, to qualifying for this year's World Twenty20 after defeating Ireland, The Netherlands, USA and the UAE over the last few days.
They achieved associate membership to the ICC in 2001, while still under Taliban rule, and cricket has been played in the country since the mid 19th century. So the fact that they should turn out to be half decent cricketers is not necessarily much of a surprise, but it is such a romantic tale.
That a terribly war-torn place like Afghanistan has a sports team to cheer is a very good thing. And they look a cracking unit too, some decent spinners - Mohammad Nabi looks to have bowled very well (and he can chip in with the bat), a very useful fast-medium in Hamid Hassan and while the batting probably isn't quite up to scratch yet, it certainly isn't a disgrace.
Make no mistake, they are going to be the whipping boys at the World T20, but along the way they might give some of the big boys a bit of a scare. Are they going to be better than Bangladesh? It could happen, they're a very long way from Test status now (some people would say that's true of Bangladesh also!) but give it a decade or so and they could grow into a very useful outfit. Bangladesh struggled to kick on after a very promising 2007 World Cup, so its a case of Afghanistan cricket seizing their moments, if they do that it could happen for them!
Sport can be a very important part of a nation building itself. If the people have something to unite around then it can be about so much more. It is also a good thing for cricket generally to have another team on the horizon. Afghanistan making it to the World Twenty20 is a brilliant story and I wish them the best of luck!
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