|Noor Ali Noori hits some runs during this year’s World Cup qualifying campaign [GALLO/GETTY]|
Afghanistan’s cricketers will hope to resume their incredible rise in the sport when they face the United States in the qualifying tournament for next year’s World Twenty20.
The team have defied the problems caused by the US-led war at home to rise to first-class status this year, winning the right to play one-day internationals for four years.
It followed an astonishing campaign for the 2011 World Cup-proper, for which they just missed out on qualification.
But they could face the world’s best in next year’s top tournament in Twenty20, the shortest version of cricket, which will be held in the West Indies.
The qualifying rounds are in the United Arab Emirates from February 9-13, with Afghanistan facing Ireland and Scotland in Group A as well as the US.
Group B is made up by the Netherlands – whom Afghanistan beat for their maiden first-class win in August – Kenya, Canada and the UAE.
The two finalists from the qualifying tournament, the draw for which was made in Dubai on Tuesday, will be in next year’s main event.
The winner of the qualifying tournament will join South Africa and India in Group C, while the losing finalist will be placed with West Indies and England in Group D.
Afghanistan has a unique cricketing history, stemming from the 1980s when millions of Afghans lived in refugee camps in Pakistan during the Soviet invasion, adopting a love of cricket from the local population.
It may be slightly ironic that six of the qualifying tournament’s group games will be held in Abu Dhabi, with all other games in Dubai.
The two Emirates are now a home-from-home for Pakistan’s cricketers, forced to play away from their own country by security problems not unlinked to the conflict in Afghanistan.