Afghanistan's World Cup return

Brought up playing the game in refugee camps, Afghanistan's cricketers will once again be competing with the world's best at this year's tournament.

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    I first saw the Afghanistan cricket team play five years ago. We came across them in Kuwait taking part in a regional Twenty20 event. Little was known about them, and not much was expected. They finished up as joint champions and so began their incredible journey.

    This week they qualified for their second consecutive Twenty20 World Cup.

    What was as noticeable then as it is now was the level of support the team has. Somehow, thousands of Afghans found that pitch in Kuwait. They arrived on foot, on the back of trucks and in overloaded taxis.

    They came because they already knew what the rest of the cricketing world was about to find out. This was a team of winners.

    The majority were brought up in refugee camps in Pakistan, their families forced to flee over the border during the Soviet-Afghan war. It was in these camps that they discovered and learned to play cricket.

    All of the Afghan players I have talked to over the years tell me how tough those days were, playing in fierce heat with bats and balls made of whatever they could find. It was here that they found ways of competing and winning in any conditions.

    Their progress as an organised team has been rapid. When they made it to their first T20 World Cup two years ago, it was something of a surprise. In contrast, they arrived in Dubai for this final qualifying event as the favourites to join the world's top ten teams in Sri Lanka.

    Eight consecutive wins have more than justified that pre-tournament status and they have now confirmed their World Cup return.

    Much is made and perhaps overstated about the team's unifying effect on their country. Young children "Picking up cricket bats rather than guns" is a quote I have heard a few times. Cricket is not, of course, about to resolve Afghanistan's problems but it is at least a focus for positive news.

    It is a rare platform where Afghanistan can compete alongside the world's best. They play, and regularly beat, the United States, for example.

    When they took on Pakistan recently, both Hamid Karzai's office and the Taliban were contacting the team wanting score updates. You can be certain they will be back in touch with this inspiring group of players when their latest World Cup adventure starts in September.


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