Barely three weeks after Afghanistan’s football team defeated India in the South Asian Football Championship final, the war-weary nation got to celebrate another sporting high Friday.
In what is seen as the greatest achievement in their ascent as a cricket-playing nation, Afghanistan qualified for the 2015 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, beating Kenya by seven wickets in the final of the World Cricket League in Sharjah.
“These have been the happiest few weeks for every Afghan. Twelve years ago, the people could not find out what had happened in the US on 9/11 as they did not have TVs and radios. Now, they have witnessed the historic feats by the football and cricket teams first hand. What a big change this is,” team coach Kabir Khan told The Indian Express.
Most Afghan players learnt the game while in exile in refugee camps and despite the troubles back home, they have been steadily rising through the ranks in international cricket over the last few years.
They qualified for the T20 World Cup last year and were elevated from affiliate to associate member of the ICC in June. In September, they beat the India under-23 team in the Emerging Nations Trophy.
Qualifying for the quadrennial mega-event also concludes unfinished business as they fell agonisingly short of making it to the 2011 World Cup. Instead of dampening their hopes, Khan says it motivated them to cross the finish line this time.
“Although we fell short, all of us realised we had the potential. More and more children started playing cricket. The players now enjoy status similar to what Wasim Akram enjoys in Pakistan or Sachin Tendulkar does in India. When you’ve got heroes, it’s easy to lure young players into a sport,” he said.
The Afghan football team captain Haroon Amiri said young Afghans are now looking at sport as a medium to elevate themselves. The SAFF Cup victory was met with unprecedented celebrations back home. From Kabul to Kandahar the streets were flooded with people in what turned out to be a 24-hour party.
Amiri, who plays for Mumbai FC in the I-League, believes the cricket team’s feat would spark similar celebrations across the country. “For decades, especially after the 9/11 attacks, the people of our country have slept every night not knowing whether they will wake up alive next morning. Sport has become a catalyst for peace. The last two weeks have brought a