No Honest ! Afghan Cricket Team coming to a ground near you


Book Reviewer
Source: Defence Net

Brits no match for Afghan cricket team

Think of Afghanistan and you probably don't think of cricket. But the Afghan national team is on its way to England for a tour, and guess what - they are pretty good.

Their final warm-up game took place in Kabul on Sunday 4 June 2006 against an International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) team made up of British Army soldiers and officers. It was one-sided, to say the least with the ISAF team crushed by 153 runs in a 20/20 'international'.

Afghans have been playing the game since around 1992. They originally learned their skills in the vast refugee camps of Pakistan. The Taleban regime once banned it, reportedly because they thought it was an American game. On the fall of the Taleban in 2001, hundreds of enthusiasts came home and brought the game with them.

Since then, cricket has boomed. The game is played all around the country - all 29 provinces have a team. Only buskashi and football are more popular than cricket. Buskashsi by the way is a bit like polo, but instead of using a ball and sticks, they use the carcass of a goat.

Growing up in Afghanistan is, it is fair to say, a bit of a rollercoaster ride. That, therefore, is the way they play their cricket. They hit it hard and a long way, and they bowl fast. No Asian team would be the same without a couple of mystic twirlers either. The Afghans had an off-spinner and a leg-spinner both of whom turned it miles. The ISAF batsmen - and some of them are decent players - were no match.

Not all the Afghan first XI played in this match either. Their opening bowler, Hamid Hassan, is thought to chuck it down well over 90mph. Batsman Mohammad Nabi did play, and he arrived in form; in a match in Pakistan recently, Nabi smashed 116 against an MCC side led by Mike Gatting and filled with minor county cricketers. The Afghans scored 356 for 7 off 50 overs in that game, and bowled MCC out for 185.

The only reminder that the game was being played in Kabul were the armed guards. Other than that, you could have been on a village green in Surrey. Watching from the stands were a clutch of dignitaries, including ISAF commander Lt Gen David Richards and some Afghan ministers. Either side of the posh seats, off-duty British soldiers did the best they could do explain the game to curious Danish, Italian, German and American soldiers. To no avail.

The game was probably lost in the ISAF players' heads before the match started. They made the mistake of watching the Afghans warm up. Warm-ups tell you quite a bit about teams. These guys were slick. A batsman skied a few, the fielders caught it (every time) and hurled it into the keeper at a hundred miles an hour. The keeper never had to move more than a foot.

The ISAF players watched open-mouthed, shuffling their feet nervously. They made the correct decision not to try and emulate the Afghans.

Afghanistan won the toss and elected to bat. The ISAF opening bowler, big Max Richards from Jamaica, sent down the first two right on the money, met with immaculate defence. Down came the third, on the same spot. The last time anyone saw the ball it was heading towards Jalalabad. That man Nabi.

The first 50 came up in four overs and, apart from extras, every scoring shot was a six. Eventually though the wickets began to fall, the batsmen holing out on various spots on the boundary. Nabi filled his boots, clubbing 92 of the most violent runs you will ever see off around 40 balls. At least ISAF did better than the MCC where Nabi was concerned.

When the ISAF slow bowlers came on, they were dispatched to most parts of Kabul. It was carnage. The Afghans rattled up 270-6 in their 20 overs. Well over 100 of those were in sixes, a few of which were truly enormous.

A word about the pitch. A lot of effort was put into it by the ISAF team in the days preceding the match. It was watered and rolled and mowed endlessly. But, being in the middle of the Afghan National Army's football pitch, it was never likely to be a batting paradise. Balls kept low, they leapt up high. You could never quite tell. The Afghans made it look like a Taunton belter.

ISAF made a good start in reply, the openers putting on 40. But then it all went wrong. The spinners came on, and that was that. The middle order collapsed horribly. The batting star was Lance Corporal Tal El-Sherbiny, who hit a fine 42. The rest did their best, nudging, edging and occasionally clubbing their way to 117 all out.

So how good are they? Team coach Taj Malik Alam explained:

"We have beaten all the other minor sides in Asia. The tour to England is our first time outside Asia, so we are looking forward to learning and playing a different variety of cricket. We have good fast bowlers and powerful batsmen, so I think we will do well over there."

They will do well. This is no cricket circus. These guys are serious about the game, and they are seriously good. Their dream is to play in the World Cup and they may not be too many years away. Word reached England that decent opposition was needed. So the Afghans will play seven matches, three against county second XIs. If you get the chance, go and watch. Entertainment is guaranteed.

The final word came from ISAF team manager Captain Ed Sutthery:

"They are far better than we are. At the moment they are training with concrete wickets, they don't have much infrastructure but their ability is phenomenal - there are going to be some very surprised county players.

Afghan tour itinerary to England

June 11 - Hoddesdon CC
June 14 - Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst
June 15 - Glamorgan 2nd XI, Swansea
June 19 - Loughborough UCCE
June 20 - Essex 2nd XI, Billericay
June 21 - Leicestershire 2nd XI, Hinckley Town
June 22 - Ditchling CC, Sussex

Totsiens kerels!

Le Chevre

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