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What the World Cup Qualifiers mean to Afghanistan

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Afghanistan_Cricket_ODIToday, Afghanistan cricket is scaling new heights across the world. This year’s World Cup Qualifiers may forever change how the world sees Afghanistan as a cricketing nation. For a country that was introduced to international cricket not too long ago, their craze for cricket is unbelievable. The commitment, the exuberance, the desire, all for the game of cricket, can be clearly witnessed.

Behind their meteoric rise in cricket lies a painful struggle. Their country has seen destruction. They’ve witnessed war and fought through it with their resilience. The fact that many of the players from the team have been brought up in refugee camps is testament to their valor.

A war-torn country that has been isolated for a considerable period, winning the World Cup Qualifiers provides them with the biggest opportunity to give their fans a reason for joy. Lots of steps have been taken to improve the standard of players. Domestic tournaments have created many pathways to the team. With international cricket unlikely to be played in Afghanistan, they have constantly toured abroad.

They have defeated West Indies and Bangladesh in the recent past and the Afghans will be looking to replicate these performances. A qualification to the World Cup would mean everything to them. It may be a giant leap forward in making their contention to being seen as a strong international cricket team. With the ICC rewarding them with the Test status, there’s no doubt regarding the faith being shown in them.

Over the last year, they have attained series victories against Zimbabwe, Ireland and even defeated the West Indies in a game. Afghanistan’s main strength lies in their hard hitting abilities, fearless playing style and fantastic spinners. Rahmat Shah and Rashid Khan have led the way in their respective departments. Rahmat has been Afghanistan’s leading run scorer in 2017 with a century and five fifties. Rashid has been a revelation not only in the Afghanistan ranks but also across the cricketing universe. He is currently ranked No.1 in both ODIs as well as T20Is.

Many players have gained international recognition. The fact that there were more Afghanistan players sold in the IPL auction than from any other Asian country (India aside) is proof of the cricketing talent being produced in the nation. The likes of Mohammed Nabi, Asghar Stanikzai and Dawlat Zadran have chipped in time and again. Mohammad Shahzad, who was splendid in the World T20 a couple of years ago, is also back in the mix. The 16-year-old sensation Mujeeb Zadran has shocked the cricketing world with his bowling finesse.

Playing the 2015 World Cup was a huge achievement. However, that was a 16 team tournament. The current qualifiers are a 10 team tournament with only 2 spots up for grabs. While Afghanistan are placed at the 10th spot in the ICC rankings, they now have a chance to stake their claim for a place in the upcoming World Cup. If they go on to win the World Cup Qualifiers, they will enter the World Cup 2019 as one of the top 10 teams in the world. A World Cup win still seems unlikely, but the Afghans may get an opportunity to play the most competitive sides in the world.

India were minnows till the 1983 World Cup victory. Few people thought highly of Sri Lanka until Arjun Ranatunga’s men got their hands on the World Cup trophy in 1996. In the end, both wins generated tremendous interest for the sport in the county. While the probability of winning a World Cup is low, the prospect of winning the Qualifiers and introducing a new generation to the game is very much on the cards.

Adversity is inevitable, but difficulties or misfortunes don't have to keep you from achieving your goals. Afghanistan have a great chance to prove their mettle and inspire not only Afghans but people across the world. There is no doubting the passion of the locals, and a victory in the qualifiers may just redefine how cricket is followed in the country.

 

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