Afghanistan head to World Cup
Afghan cricket team head to South Africa to win a place in the World Cup 2011.
Last Modified: 19 Mar 2009 14:16 GMT

Captain Nowroz Mangal celebrates the World Cricket League Division Four win last year [AFP]
Afghanistan cricket coach Kabir Khan is confident the grit of his team from a war-torn nation would see them through in the World Cup qualifying tournament in South Africa starting on April 1.

"After having seen years of hardship and war at home these players are a resilient lot," Khan said from Peshawar ahead of the team's departure for Kabul, from where they will fly to South Africa.

"They realise how important it is for their country and their countrymen if they do well in South Africa and make the World Cup," the former Pakistan Test paceman said.

Violence has surged in recent years in Afghanistan since the Taliban, ousted in a US-led invasion in 2001, regrouped in 2005 to try to drive out the foreign troops and to topple the Western-backed government of President Hamid Karzai.

The tough living conditions in the Muslim country have left little room for sporting activities but the cricket team have captured the imagination of Afghanistan by winning three International Cricket Council (ICC) world division league tournaments to qualify for next month's event.

The top four sides from the 12-team tournament will play in the 2011 World Cup to be staged jointly by Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

The top six will earn one-day international status until 2013.

"These players have been playing together for a while now and have a good understanding and bonding," said Khan.

"To them, playing the World Cup is more then just about cricket."

Pakistan influence

Over the years, war and violence in their own country have forced many Afghanis to find refuge in neighbouring Pakistan where cricket remains a passion.

Khan said interaction with Pakistanis in the North West Frontier Province bordering Afghanistan has helped Afghan cricketers develop a love for the sport.

The team enjoy warm support back home [EPA]
The team, with players who have featured in the Pakistan domestic circuit, have been boosted by the inclusion of batsman Rifatullah Mohmand, who came close to selection for Pakistan in 2005.

Mohmand, who played 117 first-class matches in Pakistan and was also on a Pakistan A tour of Australia, has chosen to play for his country of birth.

"His inclusion gives our batting more depth and experience," Khan said.

Afghanistan batsman Rais Ahmadzai credited the understanding among players for their good showing and said the team faced no pressure of expectations.

"We're not thinking about the opposition," he told the ICC website

"We could play Ireland or Scotland or even (Test side) Pakistan and we would not worry.

"The people of Afghanistan are behind us," he said.

"They come up to us on the street and ask us when we will be on the television."

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