Afghanistan v RMA Sandhurst, Camberley June 15, 2006

Afghans on parade at Sandhurst

The Afghanistan flag prepares to be raised at Sandhurst © Andrew Miller

Afghanistan's cricketers made it two wins out of two on their historic maiden tour of England, as they eased to a seven-wicket victory over the Officer Cadets of the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst.

This was a match-up that few could have envisaged. The future leaders of the British Army, many of whom could soon be serving in Afghanistan itself as the military operation in Helmand is stepped up, versus the pioneers of a sport learned in exile in Pakistan and carried back home with enthusiasm after the fall of the Taliban regime.

It was never a close contest, but in the spirit of past tussles between the two nations, neither side gave an inch until the final run had been scored, whereupon the Last Post was sounded and the Academy's standard was lowered from the flag-pole outside the pavilion.

The cadets took their defeat with dignity. For many it was the first match of a season that has been decimated both by rain and the inevitable demands of an arduous 42-week training course, and the ring-rustiness was at times evident against an opposition as good as anything that most of the players had ever before encountered.

The Afghanistan team on parade © Andrew Miller

Particular praise was lavished on Shahpur Zadran, a 19-year-old left-arm seamer who conceded just two runs from his first six overs as he buzzed his deliveries across the bows of a succession of becalmed batsmen, and Mohammad Nabi, who hit the headlines in March when he clubbed a matchwinning century against MCC in Mumbai. This time it was his legspin that earned the plaudits, as he ripped out four middle-order wickets for 22 in eight overs.

The intrusions of Sandhurst's hectic schedule were in evidence throughout the day. A third of their available players were whisked away to South Wales on the morning of the match to undertake a 70km hike through the Black Mountains, while their star performer, Officer Cadet Michael Sheeran, who made a gritty 64, had just returned from ten days of sleep deprivation in Thetford Forest.

And for the cadets in their final term, there was little time to wait in the pavilion and chew their bat-handles. Having recently settled on the regiments they intend to join at the end of their course, they took turns to disappear off to the army tailors, to have their mess and service kits measured up.

And there was little time for practice before the match. Several of the team had spent the previous week learning the ropes of counter-insurgency, which involved donning riot shields and deflecting potatoes and petrol-bombs flung by their colleagues from close quarters. At least their reactions against the fast bowlers had been fine-tuned, if not their footwork against the spinners.

For the Afghans, this was just the latest phase of an eye-opening two-week tour. Under Taliban rule, cricket had been limited to just four of the 22 provinces and was viewed with great suspicion by the Vice and Virtue Police, who once arrested several players for forgetting to attend to their prayers during a match.

Now, however, the game has spread throughout the country, and in turn beyond its own borders, with the national side gaining more recognition with every new achievement. On this tour, they are scheduled to play seven matches against a variety of opponents, with the next match taking place against a Glamorgan 2nd XI at Swansea today.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo