Dr Noor Mohammad: “Cricket is already the most popular sport in Afghanistan and our idea is to further improve and develop its popularity and get more participation throughout the country”
Afghanistan’s journey to get to the point where it will be competing in Australia and New Zealand in 18 months’ time has already been a rapid one because as recently as 2008 it was playing against Jersey and Japan in ICC World Cricket League Division Five.
Since then it has played in two ICC World Twenty20s, in 2010 and 2012, and Dr Noor said sealing a place at the game’s global 50-over competition for the first time would act as a catalyst for further expansion of the sport within the country.
“Cricket is already the most popular sport in Afghanistan and our idea is to further improve and develop its popularity and get more participation throughout the country,” he said.
“Cricket is not just a game in Afghanistan. It is also a big tool for youth development as our current players can now show youngsters what can be achieved through playing the game.
“That, in turn, can help promote peace and stability and that is why the (Afghanistan) government and other departments are supporting us.
“We have signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the (Afghanistan) Ministry of Education that cricket will be part of the school curriculum and that is a way of promoting grass roots talent in the country.
“This is the start of what you might call our second phase. We are looking at bringing in new support and technologies as we will now be performing against Full Members on a more regular basis,” he added.
There is no doubt the future for the game in Afghanistan appears very bright. That much is clear with the country’s under-19 side preparing to take part in its third successive ICC Under-19 Cricket World Cup in the United Arab Emirates early next year.
Two of the current squad that were instrumental in the ICC Cricket World Cup-clinching win over Kenya in Sharjah on Friday – left-arm spinner Hamza Hotak and left-hand batsman Hashmattulah Shaidi – have previously played in ICC Under-19 Cricket World Cups.
Others within the senior set-up have been making waves well beyond Afghanistan, with captain Mohammad Nabi and fast bowlers Hamid Hassan and Shapoor Zadran taking part in the Bangladesh Premier League earlier this year.
And there are plenty of reasons to believe this pace of development will only continue to accelerate, thanks to support from numerous key stakeholders, both within Afghanistan’s borders and overseas.
Funding from the ICC, including targeted support approved by the ICC Board in April of this year, will amount to more than US$ two million over the next 18 months while Pakistan, the country’s closest Full Member, has already committed to provide practical assistance.
The Pakistan Cricket Board signed a two-year Memorandum of Understanding with the ACB in March this year, promising technical and professional expertise, including assistance with High Performance Programme camps.
And Pakistan, which was the first Full Member to play Afghanistan in a One-Day International, in February 2012, will play Nabi’s side in a Twenty20 International in Sharjah this December.
Backing like that, as well as from the Asian Cricket Council, together with the recent televising and live streaming of Pepsi ICC World Cricket League Championship matches into Afghanistan, has meant that although the country is not currently able to host matches because of security concerns, the game is still growing rapidly.
During 2012 formal participation figures shot up to over 23,000, compared to 5,000 in 2009, however, it is likely this figure is much higher today. Thanks largely to support from the US government’s aid arm – USAID – the country now has many more cricket venues, including dedicated stadiums in Kabul and Jalalabad.
The Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), custodians of the Laws of Cricket, has also been enormously supportive since 2006, when a side led by former England captain – and now MCC President – Mike Gatting first played Afghanistan.
Since then both Nabi and Hassan have spent time as MCC Young Cricketers and the club has continued to back the game’s development in Afghanistan through MCC Spirit of Cricket coaching camps.
Afghanistan has been drawn in Pool A of the 14-team event, where it will face Australia, Bangladesh, England, New Zealand, Sri Lanka and a qualifier that will come from the ICC Cricket World Cup Qualifier in New Zealand in January 2014.