Help at hand for Afghan cricket
The bodies representing international and Asian cricket are to help develop and promote the game in Afghanistan, according to Iqbal Sikander, the Asian Cricket Council's development officer.
Sikander, who is also representing the International Cricket Council (ICC), made the pledge on the first official ACC visit to Afghanistan, an area he says has produced "good talent" despite lacking proper grounds and equipment. "The main reason for this visit was to see as to how cricket can be developed," Sikander said. "I can assure you of the ICC and the ACC's desire of developing cricket in Afghanistan, and hope that together we could develop cricket from the ground level and, Inshallah [God willing], we will see some very good positive results in two to three years' time.
"I'm representing both the ACC and the ICC simply because there's been war for the last two decades and no-one wants to come here, so this is the first time that someone from the cricket community has come here."
The Afghanistan Cricket Federation (ACF) joined the ACC in June, but was already a member of the ICC. "Cricket is becoming more popular than ever in Afghanistan and the people are very keen to see and play this game," said Allah Dad Noori, the ACF's founder and a former fast bowler whom Sikander described as "the father of cricket in Afghanistan".
Sikander met with local officials to discuss development of the game in Afghanistan, where it faces tough competition from football and buzkashi, a polo-like game played with a goat carcass. "They've all been very helpful and co-operative and are keen to see that cricket flourishes here," said Sikander. "I was very happy to see tremendous support from the local government. They're very keen to see cricket develop and I've had some very constructive meetings with the vice-president of Afghanistan, Mr Hedayat Amin Arsala."
Most Afghan cricketers are former refugees who learned their love of the game in neighbouring Pakistan and brought it back to their homeland, but local schoolchildren are also starting to play. Sikander concluded: "What I've seen so far is that all the refugees that were in [the Pakistani city of] Peshawar for a number of years, they've developed this game, they've developed the skills and now they want to bring everything back into Afghanistan. There's a lot of enthusiasm, there's a lot of talent I've seen so far. Of course that needs polishing, it needs to be refined."
Sikander added that Kabul's mayor, Mohammad Anwar Jagdalig, will shortly be allocating land for a cricket ground for the ACF. Previously Afghans had been playing on cement pitches, "which is not conducive to international-level cricket". Sikander said that Vice-President Arsala had also promised to provide a pavilion and changing-rooms at the ground, while the ACC would help lay up to three pitches and provide rollers.
Iqbal Sikander revealed that Afghanistan's under-15, under-17, under-19 and senior teams will be invited to participate in all future tournaments being organised by the ACC, with tour expenses paid by the council. And the ACC has allocated US$5000 to help buy equipment for Afghan clubs.