May 6, 2010

ICC World Twenty20

Afghanistan's story of hope

Siddhartha Talya

Mike Atherton, writing in the Times, reviews the film Out of the Ashes, a remarkable story of the Afghanistan cricket team that put up a brave show at the World Twenty20 this year. It begins with a group of cricketers playing, not in whites, but in shalwar kameez and tracks their progress to the international scene.

Filming in Afghanistan, in the middle of a war, does not sound the easiest of tasks, but Albone told me this week that only once, returning from Jalalabad, when they were held up by a roadside bombing, did they feel threatened. Otherwise, he says, the war was a footnote to the story. “We wanted to give the Afghans a voice,” he says, and, of course, they wanted to talk cricket rather than war.

The film is not sentimental and the story speaks for itself, and it is the details of discovery that are often the most telling: the look of wariness as one of the players steps into a lift for the first time, in Dubai airport; the joy they feel in Tanzania when they get to swim in the ocean for the first time; and the bemusement when they come across traffic lights for the first time, in Jersey. “Something to do with rules and regulations,” one says, thinking, no doubt, of the chaos on the roads in Kabul.

Andy Bull, writing in his blog The Spin in the Guardian, says Afghanistan’s continuing development as a cricketing nation hinges on two factors: developing the game at the grass-root level and a steady diet of top-level cricket, including three- and four-day games.

The Asian Cricket Council, which has done much to help the team along the way, is already working to arrange fixtures. In the short-term their most likely opponents are Zimbabwe and Bangladesh. Afghanistan would not be out of their depth against either side. In fact if any of the players are reading this, and judging by the stick they gave me for one of the recent pieces I wrote about them they may well be, they will probably be irritated that I haven't come out and made them firm favourites to beat both nations.

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Siddhartha Talya is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

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