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March 26, 2011
Amid all the discussion and debate about the structure of future World Cups, and whether Associates will retain a place in the tournament, it's worth remembering one team who almost completed a remarkable journey to the current event. Afghanistan finished fifth in the qualifying tournament two years ago, enough to earn ODI status but agonisingly short of being one of the four extra teams in the subcontinent.
Nobody is quite sure what the future holds for Afghanistan cricket; whether they were riding on the crest of a wave - both in terms of the emotion behind their success and a talented group players who came together at the right time - or whether there is a real chance of them developing into a fully-fledged cricketing nation. Regardless, though, they deserve the chance to try again.
Hamid Hassan, 23, is one of their poster boys and marquee players, an opening bowler with an ODI average of 20.86 and Twenty20 economy rate of under a run-a-ball. He has time on his side and is desperate that the ICC don't close off the World Cup to the Associate and Affiliate nations.
"We were so close to getting into this year's tournament, just one win away, and we'd be very disappointed if he didn't have another chance," Hassan told ESPNcricinfo. "I know ICC have announced the next tournament will be 10 nations, but I don't think it's a good idea to not let the Associates in. Hopefully we get a chance to qualify."
A year ago Afghanistan were the talk of the town as they took on India and South Africa during the group stage of the World Twenty20 in the Caribbean. There was no fairytale upset, but they certainly weren't embarrassed in either match. However, in recent months they have drifted into the background with the focus of the world game elsewhere and are now entering a crucial phase to determine which direction the sport heads in the country.
"Facilities are getting better for us and hopefully over the next year the grounds will be ready. There is a huge passion for the game in Afghanistan," Hassan said. "But Afghanistan needs to play more cricket like Ireland, Canada and Kenya do. It's the only way we will get better." Currently, Afghanistan's ODI status runs until 2013 but there aren't many teams queuing up to play them.
Hassan, and team-mate Mohammad Nabi, will have a chance to fly the flag for Afghanistan cricket when they appear for MCC against Nottinghamshire in Abu Dhabi from Sunday. The match is again being played with a pink ball under lights as part of the MCC's drive to examine the possibilities of day/night Test cricket. It won't gain the same following as last year's inaugural game as the novelty factor is no longer there, while there is the smaller matter of World Cup semi-finals taking place, but for Hassan it's an important occasion.
He was part of the MCC groundstaff in 2006 along with Nabi and has never been one to hide his ambitions. He has previously spoken about a dream of playing county cricket and although nothing has materialised as yet it isn't beyond the realms of possibility that the chance could arrive. Hassan is gunning for some Nottinghamshire wickets and hoping to help his cause.
"I'd love to have the chance to play county cricket and maybe if I do well in this game against Nottinghamshire somebody will spot me," he said. "I just want to play cricket at the highest level possible. It's a huge part of my life."
Hassan will be taking the field with Rahul Dravid and former Australia opener Chris Rogers alongside England wicketkeeper Steven Davies. Nottinghamshire are short of full strength but have a decent batting line-up including Samit Patel who was publicly criticised by Andy Flower, the England coach, over his fitness after being left out of the World Cup squad and will want to begin the domestic season next month in good form.
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Andrew McGlashan
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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Stats highlights from the first day of the second Test between Australia and India in Brisbane
It's just to say that while India don't stand a chance on normal bouncy pitches, the seaming tracks give their bowlers a chance to take 20 wickets