Results are just a small part of Afghanistan’s World Cup history

Date: February 20, 2015 / Posted by Glenn Mitchell

In October 2001 the United States and its allies made Afghanistan the chief battleground against global terrorism.

Remarkably, running parallel with the roadside bombs, air strikes and the ever increasing rubble was the birth of the national cricket team with the country receiving ICC affiliate status in 2001.

And yesterday, a mere 14 years after the national side was welcomed into the international fold it played its maiden World Cup fixture against Bangladesh at Canberra.

As a match, it was one-sided with the Bangladeshi’s racking up a 105-run win.

The result, however, was almost a sidebar to the fact that a war-town country had been able to turn out a side.

Manuka Oval is not a large ground by international standards but the sell-out crowd was raucous with many ex-pats of both countries having flown in from other Australian cities to witness the historic encounter.

Following the severity of the loss many will claim it was tokenism to have the Afghanis at the tournament but the fact is they qualified in their own right and did so emphatically.

One can debate – and there is plenty of it going on – whether there should be 14 nations at the game’s premier international tournament

But there are 14 and coming into the tournament Afghanistan was ranked number 12 in the list of ODI nations with only Ireland above it and even then by a margin of just two points.

The Afghani and Irish teams are currently accorded ICC ODI status having been previously listed on the Associate/Affiliate table with Afghanistan having been granted ODI status in 2013.

The two nations atop the second tier of international sides are the UAE and Scotland with the pair claiming the last two spots for this World Cup.

Intriguingly the next two nations after that are Papua New Guinea and Hong Kong.

Missing from the top 16 ranked teams are Kenya, The Netherlands and Canada, three countries which contested the last World Cup in the sub-continent in 2011.

In the four years hence that trio has been on the slide while Afghanistan has been on the ascent.

When you consider that Kenya contested the previous five World Cups, The Netherlands four of the last five and Canada the last three it further underlines the amazing strides that Afghanistan has made as it has literally risen from the flames.

Afghanistan’s record against those three multiple World Cup qualifiers is impressive – 4-2 against Kenya and The Netherlands and 4-1 against Canada.

Afghanistan’s progression has been nothing short of meteoric.

When it made its debut in the World Cricket League in 2008 it did so in division five, the lowliest grade run by the ICC.

Two consecutive wins over Kenya at Sharjah in late-2013, saw Afghanistan finish second behind Ireland in the ICC World Cup League Championship, and with it, a berth at the current World Cup.

The team is currently coached by Englishman Andy Moles, a former 15,000-run county player and former coach of New Zealand, Scotland and Kenya.

His position has been described as “the most dangerous job in sport”.

His brother, a counter-terrorism expert was very much against him taking up the position.

Moles does not live permanently in Kabul but flies into the country a fortnight before each tour, for like Pakistan, Afghanistan does not host internationals.

Moles recently told the BBC, “I don’t go out at night, I don’t go out onto the streets. The only time I leave the hotel is to go to work.

“When I come back, I close the door and have room service in the evenings.”

As for the players most have interesting background stories, from living in refugee camps to facing enormous pressures from hard-line Moslems with respect to playing sport.

And then, of course, there is the daily dangers that are still ever-present on many streets around the country.

Yet, through it all, the team has reached a World Cup.

Yes, the result of its maiden game was not a pretty one although there was a deal of promise early.

Finding itself in the field it kept the brakes on Bangladesh, restricting it to 4-119 through the first 30 overs before, like many teams so far in this tournament, it was unable to restrict the scoring in the last ten overs, allowing Bangladesh to total 267.

In reply, the debutants quickly found themselves 3-3, a position from which they never recovered.

This World Cup was always going to be a learning curve for Afghanistan, and a steep one at that.

Still to come are pool matches against Sri Lanka, England, Scotland and the co-hosts, Australia and New Zealand.

It will be the game against the Scots that will perhaps be of most significance for the Afghanis as it is the only team below them in the rankings.

The side’s World Cup debut did not go as it would have liked but valuable lessons will have been learned.

Whilst the War in Afghanistan officially ended in December last year, for the nation’s cricket team the battle up the world rankings has only recently begun.

First published on The Roar – theroar.com.au – on 19 February 2015