Less than four years after playing their first tournament against teams including Japan and Norway, Afghanistan will write a new chapter in their remarkable rise with an one-day international against Pakistan on Friday.
Afghanistan, unable to host matches during a decade of war between NATO forces and the Taliban, won their initial tournament in Jersey in May 2008.
They qualified for the Twenty20 World Cup in the Caribbean two years later and then came within touching distance of a place at last year’s 50 overs World Cup in the Asian sub-continent.
The players’ consolation was to secure one-day international status and Friday’s match in their adopted cricketing home of Sharjah is a chance to test themselves against a Pakistan side who whitewashed England in the recent three-match test series.
Pakistan, also forced to play abroad because of security problems, was the country where some of the Afghanistan players were born and where they learned the game in refugee camps.
“I can assure you that millions of Afghanistan cricket supporters across the globe have been waiting for this day which comes after years of hard work, sacrifice and commitment,” Nasimullah Danish, the chief executive officer of the Afghanistan Cricket Board, told Reuters.
“Afghanistan cricket has been taking small but solid steps while making upward movement and it would be fair to say that our next target is to qualify for the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015.”
Those steps include the inauguration of the rebuilt Kabul Cricket Stadium last December when 8,000 spectators came to watch the national senior team take on an under-19 side.
The International Cricket Council (ICC) contributes approximately USD 700,000 a year to aid Afghanistan’s development and it is keen that Friday’s match encourages other top teams to follow Pakistan’s lead.
“In order for cricket to remain competitive within the international sporting marketplace, it is important that more countries are capable of performing well at the highest international level,” Tim Anderson, the ICC’s global development manager, told Reuters.
“For sides to reach that level they need to play more against higher standard opposition, so Pakistan playing Afghanistan is a terrific initiative that we are very excited about and something we would like to see more of in the future.”
Afghanistan have played in the Pakistan domestic competition and against Pakistan A sides, while two of the country’s past coaches Kabir Khan and Rashid Latif, are Pakistani.
Three Afghanistan players, wicketkeeper Mohammad Shazad, spin bowler Mohammad Nabi and fast bowler Hamid Hassan, were chosen for an ICC side who faced England before their test series against Pakistan.
Hassan was injured and unable to complete the match after taking the first two wickets in the England first innings while Nabi took five wickets and Shazad scored 51 and 74, as well as taking five catches.
“I played against them in our domestic Twenty20 tournament for Faisalabad and they have some really good, talented players,” Pakistan captain Misbah-ul-Haq told Reuters.
“They are eager to play international cricket and for us it is good preparation going into a tough (one-day) series against England.”
A sellout crowd is expected on Friday, with the match taking place on a day when almost all workers in the UAE are able to take as a holiday.