Sharjah: It was a great moment for Afghanistan at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium on Saturday as they took on the mighty Australia for the first time in a One-Day International.
It was only the second time the team of mostly war refugees has faced a Test-playing nation.
Hamid Shinwari, the chief executive of the Afghanistan Cricket Board, was understandably, therefore, a happy man. He said: “We are improving at a faster rate than even some of the full members and we have the capacity to compete against any top nation.”
Though Afghanistan was granted one-day international status in 2009, so far they have had only two matches against a full member nation, following February’s meeting with Pakistan in Sharjah. “This is only our second match against a full member nation in three years, which I think is not fair,” added Shinwari.
The determination to prove that they are a formidable side emerges from this neglect. After losing the toss to Australia and being asked to field, they marched in like soldiers out to conquer.
Afghanistan players are fully aware that their opponents can be tough and have got more experience in the game and than them. However, their objective, as Shinwari said, is not about just winning, but putting up a great show. “Cricket is more than a game in Afghanistan. It brings hope to country.”
Shinwari appealed to all full member nations to provide them with support. “We need technical and moral support from full members. If we can play in at least five, six or maybe eight One-Day Internationals in a year, then it would contribute hugely to our game’s improvement,” he said.
For Australian Glenn Maxwell, meanwhile, the match was as special as it was for the Afghanistan team as he got to make his one-day debut for Australia. He also wore the shirt number 28, which was last worn by the legendary Matthew Hayden.
”We want to improve and prove we are a better team than when we played against Pakistan in our first one-dayer against a full member,” remarked Nawroz Mangal, the captain of the Afghanistan team. Afghanistan’s only one-day match before this match saw them lose to Pakistan by seven wickets in February. Though they lost the match, they won the hearts of cricket lovers for putting up a fighting performance.
Some of Afghanistan’s players have been playing in UAE’s domestic tournaments for local clubs, but Shinwari believes that his players deserve more honour. “We want our players to be invited to play in the Indian Premier League, the Sri Lankan Premier League, and for English county teams. If we could get such invites, our players could improve a lot,” he said.
The Afghanistan Cricket Board is busy creating top-class grounds in their country in the hope that one day international teams will come and play there. Plans are also afoot for an Afghan Premier League Twenty20 tournament to be staged by 2014.
The following for the game in the country has been so impressive that the government and many sponsors are willing to back the team. Etisalat Afghanistan, which is one of the main sponsors of the team, has sponsored the trophy for this one-off match.
Kefayatullah Nabikhil, senior manager of Etisalat Afghanistan’s media management, said: “We have been supporting the cricket team and board since 2006. We have signed a contract to back the team for three years until 2013, and the impressive progress that this team has made over the years has given us the mileage we expect from a sports team.”