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Afghans Ready for Cricket

May 22 (BBC News): Afghanistan are set to take to a new sporting stage in Jersey on Friday when they compete in their first-ever international cricket championship.

They are due to play Japan in their opening game of the ICC's World League Division Five tournament.

Coach Taj Malik insists: "In Afghanistan we are taking cricket very seriously. We play with passion and are aggressive," he told BBC Radio Jersey.

They have only been playing the sport in their country for about 20 years and for much of that time it was heavily restricted by the Taliban regime.

But, if they do well, they could then find themselves on course for an eye-catching meeting with the United States in the semi-finals or the final.

"If we face America in a semi-final or the final I think all the world will be waiting for this match," said Malik.

"People see this game in a political view, but we see this as positive for sport.

"If we beat America everybody we will be very happy. I'm sure if we play America we will win."

The Afghans have brought publicity to what would otherwise be a very low-key tournament.

"They've certainly generated a lot of interest," said Andrew Faichney, the Development Event Manager for the ICC. "It's great for cricket and it's great for cricket within the associate and affiliate countries that this is being able to be a catalyst for interest in the tournament."

"This is the first global competition that the Afghan cricket team have played in and it's one of the only competitions they have any chance of winning," said Tim Albone, a former Times journalist who is making a documentary about the side's time in Jersey.

"They see this as something after so many years of war that they can support and be proud of and show the world that they are recovering."

The Afghan team contains hard hitters of the ball and fast bowlers, one of whom, Hamed Hassan, is reputed to be able to bowl at up to 90mph.

"They don't have many spin bowlers," said Albone, "so fast bowling is really their forte."

For now, Hassan is concentrating only on Japan, the first of five group games which also sees them take on the hosts Jersey, Singapore, the Bahamas and Botswana.

"Every time we play we are just talking about Jersey," he said. "We have only one opportunity in this competition and everybody is working very hard."

And for Afghan coach Malik, it's also a chance to promote his country as something other than a war-ravaged place.

"They have very big hearts, they like to bowl fast and hit hard. I'm sure people will like our cricketing playing style and will think positively about my country."