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How the Afghanistan cricket players are using the sport to heal their war ravaged country

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Had things gone according to plan‚ the Afghanistan ‘A’ cricket side would not be taking part in the triangular ODI series.

The series started in Pretoria on Wednesday and hosts South Africa ‘A’ are entertaining their Afghanistan and India counterparts.

The Afghanistans are in SA after a twist of fate presented them with an unexpected opportunity that was too good to pass.

Australia ‘A’ pulled out of the tournament as a result of their long-standing pay dispute with their board and this allowed the Afghanistans to take their place.

Faced with the possibility of cancelling the tournament‚ Cricket South Africa (CSA) extended an eleventh hour invitation to Afghanistan and they obliged‚ despite having to overcome logistical challenges such as organising visas for the travelling party.

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“Honestly speaking‚ it was very short notice for us to organise this trip but our cricket board did their best to get the visas as soon as possible‚” said coach Raees Ahmadzai after their arrival in South Africa.

“Our players want to play as much cricket they can and be busy.

“This is an opportunity for our players to play against top teams and we hope that of these players who are here for this tournament‚ (some) will be ready to play in the senior side in about two to three years.

“They will learn a lot because very soon we want to play Test cricket and this is a good exercise test for our players to gauge themselves against some of the best in the world at this level.”

The Afghanistans have had to overcome heavy odds since they were approved by the International Cricket Council (ICC) as cricket’s 11th Test playing nation.

Though they are counted among the Test playing in the world‚ the Afghanistans still don’t have proper infrastructure.

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Not so long ago their players played the game in refugee camps in Pakistan as a result of the war that has ravaged the country since 2001.

“I think the situation in Afghanistan will be changed by sports‚ especially cricket.

“Everyone loves the cricketers.

“The political situation is not in our hands and I don’t want to talk too much about it because it is above our heads.

“But we can travel anywhere we want in the country and no one will give us problems.

“No one wants to fight because the people of Afghanistan are friendly.

“But the things that are happening are out of our control.”

They have made great strides over the past few years despite the heavy odds against them.

Beating defending champions West Indies by 6 runs in their final group league encounter of the ICC World Twenty20 last year is one of the country’s cricket highlights.

“Cricket is the number one sport in Afghanistan and there will be millions of fans who following ball to ball of this tournament from local radios and on the internet.

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“They know how important this tournament is for the players and they want to see how we will do in the future against the top teams in Test cricket‚” Ahmadzai said‚ adding that they are ready to host Test cricket anytime.

“To be honest‚ we are ready to host Test cricket anytime.

“We are very lucky because we have T20 and ODI specialist players in the team.

“The president of our country Ashraf Ghani is a very keen and big supporter of cricket and he knows about this tour.

“He will be calling us to check how we are doing and hopefully we won’t disappoint him.”

Team captain for this tour‚ Shafiqullah Shafaq‚ said the players understands the responsibility they carry as ambassadors of their country.

“We are very aware of the impact that sport‚ and especially cricket‚ will have in helping to heal our country‚” he said.

“We will do our best to put smiles on the faces of our people whenever we play‚” he said.

– TimesLIVE