The rise – and rise – of Afghanistan cricket through the ranks, from the lower levels to the highest one, has been a phenomenal one.
From playing in ICC World Cricket League Division Five in 2008 to making their Test debut earlier this year – with a first ICC Cricket World Cup appearance in 2015 in between – their journey has been rapid and unrelenting.
Another chapter in Afghanistan’s already impressive book will be added next year, when they take part in the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 in England and Wales.
The journey to next year’s tournament was a turbulent one – coming back from the brink at the ICC Cricket World Cup Qualifier earlier this year.
We chart the rise of cricket in Afghanistan, from humble beginnings to performing on the biggest stage of all.
Inception of cricket in Afghanistan (early 2000s)
Cricket was played by the British in Afghanistan in the 19th century, but it became popular among Afghans living in refugee camps in Pakistan in the 1990s.
With cricket being as popular as it is in Pakistan, it was little surprise that Afghan camps just outside Peshawar saw plenty of cricket action. In the early 2000s, as Afghans started to make their way back home, they took cricket with them.
Granted Affiliate status by ICC (2001)
The cricket board itself was formed in 1995, with the national team formed in 2001; the same year the ICC granted Affiliate status to the Afghanistan Cricket Federation (now the Afghanistan Cricket Board).
Asian Cricket Council Trophy (2006)
After being granted associate membership of the Asian Cricket Council (ACC) in 2003, the team hit the ground running in the 2006 Asian Cricket Council Trophy, reaching the semi-final. That increased the excitement among the Afghan public, and the next few years were full of impressive performances.
Under the leadership of Nawroz Mangal and with impassioned fans spurring them on, Afghanistan became joint winners of the inaugural ACC Twenty20 Cup in 2007 after the final against Oman ended in a tie.
The same year, Afghanistan won the ICC World Cricket League Division Five, defeating Jersey in the final. They remained unbeaten in the ICC World Cricket League Division Four in Tanzania and then won the ICC World Cricket League Division Three in Argentina.
World Cup Qualifiers (2009)
Their performances in the ICC World Cricket League paved the way for Afghanistan to take part in the qualifiers for the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011. The side did remarkably well to reach the Super Eight stage in South Africa in 2009 but faltered at the last stage, where they lost to Canada.
However, their run helped them gain one-day international status in April 2009 – a phenomenal achievement considering they started out barely eight years before.
First World T20 appearance (2010)
Afghanistan next set their sights on the ICC World T20 in 2010, qualifying for the event by winning the ICC World T20 Qualifier 2010 held in Dubai, defeating Ireland in the final by eight wickets.
They rubbed shoulders with the big boys on the biggest stage, but not with much success, losing to India and South Africa to crash out of the tournament early. They recovered from their first World T20 tournament quickly though, beating Scotland in the ICC Intercontinental Cup final in Dubai in December the same year to win the event at their first attempt.
First ODI against a full member (2012)
Afghanistan first faced a full member in an ODI with a clash against Pakistan in Sharjah on 10 February 2012. Although they lost by seven wickets, it was a red-letter day in the history of Afghanistan cricket. They also hosted Australia in a one-off ODI in Sharjah the same year.
Promotion to Associate membership (2013)
In 2013, Afghanistan was promoted from Affiliate to Associate member by the ICC.
ICC Cricket World Cup debut (2015)
After narrowly missing out on an ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 berth, history was not going to repeat itself.
A clinical Afghanistan unit, led by Mohammad Nabi, beat Kenya by seven wickets to finish second in the ICC World Cricket League Championship in Sharjah. The victory meant Afghanistan would travel to the biggest event in world cricket – the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015.
They lost five matches in the group stage, but on 26 February 2015, Afghanistan created history when they recorded their first-ever win in a World Cup match, defeating Scotland by one wicket. A momentous occasion.
Awarded Test status (2017)
On 22 June 2017, Afghanistan were awarded Full Member status by the ICC along with Ireland. Soon, their maiden Test was slotted against India, to start on 14 June 2018 in Bengaluru.
Success at the Under-19 World Cup (2018)
Like with most new teams, there was the question of the immediate future once they had reached prominence. But in Afghanistan’s case, the next generation seems ready.
They first qualified for the ICC Under-19 World Cup in 2010 and their best result came at the ICC Under-19 World Cup 2018 where they reached the semi-finals before losing to Australia. In 2017, the colts also won the Under-19 Asia Cup by beating Pakistan in the final by a huge 185 runs.
In the current Test squad, spinners Mujeeb Ur Rahman (17), Zahir Khan (19) and Wafadar Momand (19) are all still teenagers, while world-class leg-spinner Rashid Khan and batsman Ihsanullah are both 20.
ICC Cricket World Cup Qualifier (2018)
Defeats to Scotland, Zimbabwe and Hong Kong left Afghanistan’s World Cup Qualifier campaign in tatters.
Having gone into the tournament as one of the favourites to book their spot at the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019, three defeats from these games left Afghanistan with little hope of making it to CWC19.
However, a win against Nepal, who then did Afghanistan a favour by beating Hong Kong, helped them progress to the Super Six stage.
From there, it all went their way. They recorded wins against the Windies, UAE and Ireland – while relying on other results to go their way – to come back from the brink and finish second in the table, therefore confirming their place at the World Cup.
The icing on the cake came as they inflicted another defeat on the Windies in the final to lift the World Cup Qualifier trophy and finish the campaign in style.
First Test (2018)
While the result and performance were far from what Afghanistan would have dreamed of, they still made more history in June 2018 when they made their Test debut.
India hosted Afghanistan in a one-off Test in Bengaluru, which ended with defeat inside two days for the debutants.
The game, however, was about more than the result. The sight of Afghanistan in the famous whites of Test cricket just 17 years after the creation of the national team was a huge victory in itself.
More World Cup history? (2019)
2019 represents another significant moment for Afghanistan cricket. A second Cricket World Cup appearance and the potential to really shock the world. Can they create yet more history?
A limited number of tickets to watch Afghanistan at #CWC19 are available to buy now. Click here to get yours before they’re gone.