Afghan Cricket Team Battles to Become World Class

KABUL, December 27 (Daily Telegraph)

Two decades after cricket took hold among Afghan refugees sheltering in Pakistan from the Soviet occupation, the national side could be four months from joining the sport's top flight.

The team is flying to Argentina, where first or second place in the International Cricket Council league, division three, brings qualification for the World Cup qualifiers in South Africa in April.

The Argentinian tournament follows a successful year, in which the Afghan side has rapidly scaled the lower leagues, winning both division five and four.

As a gesture of appreciation for the efforts against overwhelming odds, the team's players were flown to the Hajj pilgrimage as guests of President Hamid Karzai and are now in a training camp in Pakistan.

"I think, God willing, we stand a good chance," said Allah Dad Noore, the president of the country's cricket federation and the father of Afghan cricket.

Years of fighting between the country's warlords hampered efforts to have the sport officially registered and the Taliban regime was deeply suspicious of the new sport.

"They would not agree to accept this game because they told me there was no cricket in Afghanistan," said Mr Noore.

"I said no, there will be in the near future because five million Afghans in Pakistan will soon come here and we will have to register."

Cricket matches now command large crowds and the city of Jalalabad alone has 66 registered clubs.