Tue, Jun 03, 2008 - Page 20 News List

Cricket win gives Afghans cause for celebration at last

AP , LONDON

The battle-scarred inhabitants of Afghanistan can finally embrace a unifying diversion after seven years of factional infighting.

Cricket.

Their Afghan national team are winners.

The World Cricket League Division 5 won’t have registered with fans of the powerhouse Test-playing nations, but to Afghans the trophy captured on Saturday clears one hurdle on the road to the 2011 World Cup.

The victorious scenes unfolded on Saturday nearly 6,500km away from Kabul on a verdant pitch enclosed by trees and a traditional whitewashed pavilion in Jersey — one of the Channel Islands off the coast of France owned by the British monarchy.

The location was a world away from the team’s usual home, the hot, dry conditions at Kabul’s Olympic Stadium, scene of executions during the brutal Taliban era.

“This game was very important to my team and for my country” allrounder Hasti Gul Abed said after the two-wicket victory over home side Jersey. “They got a very low total and when I came into bat all I wanted to do was reach the target and I’m so happy I did.”

“There will be celebrations in all of Afghanistan. There will be lots of people waiting in Kabul to see the trophy and all of Afghanistan will be very happy,” he said.

And that’s rare in a country that has witnessed thousands of deaths in insurgency attacks and military operations since 2001.

Now the sport could start to help heal the wounds.

A emergence of cricket in Afghanistan has been spurred by refugees returning from the Test-playing nation of Pakistan and was helped by last year’s triumph in the Asia Cricket Council’s Twenty20 Cup.

The victory over Jersey, who were backed by more than a thousand home fans, ensured both qualified for the ICC World Cricket League Division 4 event in October.

The top two nations in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, will contest January’s Division 3 competition in Argentina looking for berths in the World Cup qualifying tournament in the United Arab Emirates later in the year.

“It is a dream come true to win,” Afghanistan fast bowler Hamid Hassan said. “The [World Cup] dream is alive and we’ll try our best to get to 2011.”

That would provide the perfect distraction from likely heightened tensions surrounding the 10th anniversary year of the US-led invasion.

Coach Taj Malik was already feeling the weight of expectation.

“We were waiting and wanting to hold the trophy so there was a lot of pressure on us,” he said at Jersey’s Grainville ground.

“It is the proudest moment of my life because I challenged everybody in Afghanistan that if we lose then I would throw myself in the Atlantic,” Malik said. “There is no need to do that now my team has qualified for Division 4.”

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