Afghan coach keeps eye on the prize
Cricket coach inspires visions of glory as Afghanistan aim for World Cup qualification.
Last Modified: 06 Apr 2009 18:33 GMT

The Afghanistan team relax before their crucial qualifer [AL JAZEERA]
Timing in life, sport and particularly cricket can be everything.

Just ask Mohammad Iqbal Sikander.

That he played only four one day matches for Pakistan suggests a moderate international career.

But those four games were all at the 1992 World Cup, a campaign which culminated in his country winning their first and only world title.

Never say die

"We lost three of our first five matches at that tournament, and had we lost one more game we would have been packing our bags and heading home.

"It goes to show in sport you should never give up, never say die."

It is a philosophy that perfectly sums up the approach of the Afghanistan team he is now helping to coach.

The side are currently in South Africa, the latest stop on their unlikely but inspiring bid to qualify for the 2011 World Cup.

"In five years this Afghanistan team have come from nowhere. To qualify for the world cup will be a miracle and it will do so much for cricket in the country.

"It is already the number one game there but if they reach the World Cup everything will change again. It will be something so great for Afghanistan.

"No one can imagine the impact it will have there."

Sikander believes the team have the mental toughness to succeed [AL JAZEERA]
Rewarding project

Iqbal maintains a geographically ambitious lifestyle. He now lives with his wife in the small city of Waterloo in Canada but works full time as a development officer for the Asian Cricket Council.

His attachment to the Afghanistan team is, he says, the toughest but most rewarding project of his post-playing career.

"Trying to develop the game inside Afghanistan is not easy. It is difficult for outsiders to go into places like Kandahar and Jalalabad, so our plan is to train local players who can then become coaches in the provinces.

"But now there are many kidnappings and bombings in Kabul as well. It makes it hard for us to do any work there at all.

"However if we continue to provide facilities and share our experience then I am convinced the game will continue to grow."

Street cricket

Results & Fixtures

ICC Cricket World Cup Qualifier Apr 1 - Apr 19 2009

1 April
Denmark v Afghanistan

Afg bt Den by 5 wickets

2 April
Bermuda v Afghanistan
Afg win by 60 runs

4 April
Kenya v Afghanistan
Ken bt Afg by 107 runs

6 April
Netherlands v Afghanistan
Ned bt Afg by 5 wickets

8 April
UAE v Afghanistan

The ultra-competitive mindset of the current Afghanistan team reflects this background.

Most learnt the game playing street cricket in the refugee camps of Pakistan they were brought up in during the Soviet-Afghan war.

That those same players have risen to the brink of a World Cup place is, Iqbal says, down to a combination of their natural talent and the mental toughness they had to acquire just to survive their formative years.

"When times are difficult I also remind the players of my experiences at the World Cup.

"When it looked like we would be knocked out of the tournament, Imran Khan, our captain and leader, showed us how to go forward.

"Before a crucial match he stood up wearing a shirt which had a tiger on it.

He said, 'This tiger has its back to the wall. We cannot go back any further. The only way we can go is forward. If we lose the game I will take all the blame, I will not let anyone point fingers at you. All I ask of you is to give everything in this match.'

"Well, as we all know, the team responded and eventually we won the World Cup.

"So my message to the Afghanistan team is always to go out there and fight like tigers. That way, even if they lose, they will always be able to hold their heads high."

Al Jazeera
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