Four members of Afghanistan's Under-19 touring party which participated in the recent World Cup in the Caribbean have stayed on in the UK and not returned to Afghanistan with their team-mates.
Their transit visas are set to expire on February 8 and ESPNcricinfo has confirmed the four are currently in London. It could not be confirmed whether the quartet, which includes one player, is seeking asylum in the UK.
The Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB) has made no official comment on the development.
Afghanistan enjoyed a successful World Cup, finishing fourth, three places higher than in 2020. The touring party boarded a flight in Antigua over the weekend and landed in London at Heathrow airport on Sunday morning. The squad then took a flight to Kabul via the UAE, eventually landing back home on Monday morning, to felicitations from the ACB.
While the rest of the Afghanistan squad including the coaching and support staff boarded that flight, four decided to stay at Heathrow.
UK government rules state that a person can stay in the country for no more than 48 hours on a transit visa. That means the four members' transit visa will expire on Tuesday morning. It was the issuance of the same visas in January that had delayed Afghanistan's arrival in the Caribbean
and nearly made them miss the World Cup.
Former Afghanistan player Raees Ahmadzai
, who was the head coach during the World Cup, said he hoped the four would "rethink" and return back to their home country. Ahmadzai said he had messaged all four. "They received my messages. But they have not responded yet," Ahmadzai told ESPNcricnfo on Monday.
"I told them Afghanistan needs them. Sports and cricket has done a lot for Afghanistan. The support we got during the World Cup was amazing, unbelievable. Sometimes when you do things for your country, it will mean a lot for you in your whole life."
More than 100,000 Afghans including at least one former president, bureaucrats, sportspersons and civilians left the country immediately after Taliban assumed power last August. Ahmadzai said that while he understood it was a "personal" choice, he did not know if the four people had a plan.
"Sometimes you can get emotional and can decide in the spur of the moment, but once you re-think about what you did I think it will hurt you. I believe they will go back. It is a personal choice. Sometimes you don't have a plan. I know these people. They were very good to work for Afghanistan cricket."
In case the four decide not to return, Ahmadzai said it would not affect Afghanistan cricket. "It will not create any problem for our cricket. But they will feel forever guilty. As a sportsperson you can travel anywhere. When I started playing cricket it was my dream to go to see UK, Europe, America, Australia and it is because of cricket I have travelled more than 50 countries. These guys are professionals, and I am still hoping they will go back to Afghanistan."
Ahmadzai said that cricket had sustained its popularity despite the country's uncertainty and instability. "Cricket will be alive in Afghanistan. The future of the game remains bright. We finished fourth this time compared to seventh in the last edition.
"We had very strong support in the Caribbean. The opposition teams praised us including Mahela Jayawardene [who] said it is amazing to see such good players at the Under-19 level and you guys will be on top one day. That means a lot for our youngsters."