Delighted at the way cricket is growing in Afghanistan, qualification to the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 has increased appeal of the game, says ACB chief executive
The country's meteoric rise in international cricket has been well documented in recent times. Now, in a quest to further strengthen the popularity of the sport and take it to the interiors, the Afghanistan Cricket Board launched their biggest televised sporting event in the country – the second edition of their national Twenty20 tournament.
As it turned out, the tournament, aimed at helping the board identify young and upcoming talent as well as spreading the game through the television medium, turned out to be a massive success. A crowd upwards of 5,000 attended most matches of the five-team tournament, with the final between Band-e-Amir, captained by Mohammad Nabi, and Mis-e-nak, led by Nowroz Mangal, drawing an audience of close to 12,000.
The final was a high-profile event, attended by Afghanistan’s Finance Minister, Minister of Economy, Minister of Interior, Ambassador of India, governors and other parliamentarians.
"We were able to attract the US embassy to support the project by donating more than 350,000 USD, while the Australian Embassy donated 18,000USD. The UNFPA (their objective was youth empowerment), Ministry of Antinarcotics and Swedish Committee for Afghanistan (health and people with disabilities) were also our partners for this tournament," said Dr Noor Muhammad, the chief executive of the ACB.
In a bid to boost cricket’s viewership, the ACB accrued the services of a production company and television channel 1TV, the second most popular TV station. The matches were also streamed on the official websites of ACB and 1TV. Interestingly, the tournament attracted high television ratings, with viewership in the millions and many estimating it to be the most watched sporting event in Afghanistan’s history.
The presence of the country's top cricketers, who have gone on to become role models for the youth, added to the colour and popularity of the tournament.
"We're delighted at the way cricket is growing in Afghanistan, the interest has multiplied several fold and our qualification to the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup has only increased the appeal of the game in the country," said Muhammad.
"We would like to thank the Afghanistan government and the Australian embassy for their support and cooperation. We’re extremely pleased with the response; it only goes to show how much potential there is in this country."
Tim Anderson, ICC's Head of Global Development, said the tournament was a step in the right direction for Afghanistan. "The crowd and audience response was terrific, while the quality of cricket was top notch," he said. "It goes to show the depth of talent across the country, many of whom could become future stars on the world stage."