Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent
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Two out of four Afghanistan team members from the 2022 Under-19 World Cup touring party returned to the country three months after staying back in England with a view to seeking asylum in the wake of the Taliban takeover of the country. ESPNcricinfo understands both have been accepted back by the Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB) and are likely to be reemployed by the board.
Afghanistan finished fourth at the Under-19 World Cup in the Caribbean, three places higher than in 2020. While returning from Antigua, the team had a scheduled stopover in London. While the rest of the Afghanistan squad, including the coaching and support staff, boarded their flight from London, four members of the travelling party decided to stay on at Heathrow with a view to seeking asylum.
"There were three officials and one player [who stayed on in London], with video analyst Sherullah Afghan and physio Dr. Sifatullah Wardak among them, but those two have decided to return to Kabul," ACB chief executive Naseeb Khan told ESPNcricinfo. "It was not the first time that people in our country stayed in other countries in various ways or were smuggled out of the country. I am pleased that our technical staff has returned to the ACB, and I warmly welcome them.
"Their presence shows that security in Afghanistan is improving day by day and that the ACB has overcome the challenges it faced in the early days of the regime change. I hope those young people who have left the country return, as there are several possibilities for them to serve their country on various occasions. The doors are open for all Afghans."
Both officials met with the ACB's top brass at the board headquarters in Kabul as the duo admitted that they preferred to return to serve their cricket. "Afghanistan needs manpower in technical aspects, so we decided to return back and work in our very own country because there is peace and prosperity in the country, so the priority must be given to Afghanistan," Wardak said in a statement.
ACB chairman Mirwais Ashraf confirmed that both will be given employment. "The game has spread to all parts of the country," said Ashraf. "The country is in need of technical staff and capacities, so everyone must strive hard to work for the country."
Immediately after Taliban took over the country last August, hundreds of Afghans including at least one former president, bureaucrats, sportspersons and civilians left. Since the takeover, the cricket board has been reshuffled extensively, and the working structure was revamped. Former allrounder Ashraf was brought in as the new chairman.
Despite being a Full Member country, availing visas has become progressively tougher for Afghan cricketers and support staff, especially in the aftermath of the Taliban establishing a government. To alleviate the problem and expedite visas, the ACB has decided to procure UAE residency visas for nearly two dozen players and officials. The residence visas will allow the players and officials to stay in the UAE for longer periods of time while also ensuring they are able to apply for visas without physically needing to be present in Afghanistan.
Afghanistan's next tour is against Ireland in Belfast in August, with the ACB in the process of procuring UK visas.