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March 11, 2007
The lower-ranked Associates haven't received the warmest of welcomes ahead of the World Cup, but that isn't stopping Afghanistan and Norway planning for the 2011 World Cup.
"I can see a very bright future for cricket in Afghanistan and maybe in the next ten years we will be able to have at least five good grounds," Shahzada Masoud, president of the Afghanistan Cricket Federation (ACF), said. "The ultimate goal would be to play against Test-playing nations and maybe even qualify for the 2011 World Cup."
Both teams are in the lowly Division Five of the World Cricket League and would need to be promoted to Division One before even thinking about qualifying for the World Cup. Cricket is undoubtedly on the rise in Afghanistan, but sheer enthusiasm alone is an insufficient base on which to improve the sport's standard in the country.
They did, however, have a successful maiden tour of England last summer. Their opponents? The Officer Cadets of the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, who were twice beaten.
"When we visited the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst there were Afghan cadets in the academy who said that people were actually laughing about the fact that we were coming to play cricket against them," Masoud said. "And then Afghanistan won. After beating the MCC in India earlier in the year this was good. The better the team, the better we play."
The country has little history with cricket. The Taliban banned the sport but now, with the regime now fallen - and their close proximity to Pakistan - the game is showing signs of flourishing.
"Even years ago while cricket was being played in Pakistan there was obviously no TV coverage and so most people got information and commentary only through the radio," Masoud added. "I think it caught on during the 1987 World Cup in Pakistan where there was coverage. People who fled the Russian rule in Afghanistan went to Pakistan and either lived in camps across the border or assimilated into places like Peshawar, Rawalpindi and Lahore.
"Many Afghans share a common heritage with people like Shahid Afridi who is a big hero to the Afghans, Younis Khan - even Imran Khan, who is believed to be an Afghan from his mother's family."
Thousands of miles away in Oslo, Norway's national team are sheltering from the freezing weather in a sports hall for their weekly practice. "So far, we have lost only six matches out of 40. As chief selector, I have done my job," Khalid Mahmood, 47, proudly told AFP.
The road will be long and arduous.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.