Afghanistan’s cricket chief on Wednesday called on top nations to tour the country, insisting it is safe and has world class facilities boosted by foreign money.
Money from Germany is being used to build one stadium in the war-torn nation and interest is growing as Afghanistan has qualified for next year’s World Cup.
“I am telling the players to come to my country and play there, they will treasure those memories for ever,” Afghanistan Cricket Board chairman Shahzada Masoud told AFP at the Asian Games.
“We want support from other nations. We had lots of problems in the last 30 years because of the uncertain security situation, but that needs to be erased from our minds and heart now.
“Because sport unites people. Cricket is one of our favourite sports. You get 20,000-30,000 people watching our local league matches. The security is good, especially for cricketers.
“Our teams travels around the country without guards. We don’t need those guards. People love them because they represent the country.”
Masoud said a new stadium in Jalalabad was comparable to any stadium in Asia, and has already hosted club and first-class teams from Pakistan.
Foreign assistance is boosting cricket facilities in Afghanistan. The Indian government has given a grant of one million dollars to build a new stadium in Kandahar.
– German boost to cricket –
And Germany, a non-cricketing nation, has sanctioned 700,000 euros for a stadium in Khost province, Masoud said.
“We are grateful to both India and Germany for their support,” he said. “But what we want now is for teams like India to come any play on our grounds.
“It would have been so exciting if Sachin Tendulkar had come and played in our country. I hope Mahendra Singh Dhoni can make it.”
Afghanistan has come a long way since the national team was formed in 2001 and played their first Asian Cricket Council tournament for non-Test nations in 2003.
They qualified for the World Twenty20 in the Caribbean in 2010 and have already taken part in subsequent tournaments in 2012 in Sri Lanka and in Bangladesh earlier this year.
But Afghanistan’s greatest achievement so far is qualifying for next year’s showpiece 50-over World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.
“We have achieved a lot in a short time, I don’t think anyone expected us to get this far,” Masoud, a minister in the Hamid Karzai government, said.
“The future of cricket is bright in our country. It is played in 32 of our 34 provinces. And matches are shown on local television.”
Masoud said thousands turned up to get a glimpse of the World Cup trophy when it was brought to Afghanistan during a world tour organised by the International Cricket Council recently.
“The World Cup is big news in Afghanistan,” he said. “The youth of the country want the team to do well there. We know it will be a tough tournament, but our target is to defeat established teams like Bangladesh.
“We beat them on their soil in the Asia Cup this year, so there is no reason why we can’t do it again.”
Afghanistan are currently touring Australia under new coach Andy Moles, a former English first-class cricketer, to prepare for the World Cup.
But keen to match, or surpass, their silver-medal winning performance at the previous Asian Games four years ago, the team management flew down four top players, including captain Mohammad Nabi, from Australia to Incheon to reinforce the second-string team.
Afghanistan will also play four one-dayers in the United Arab Emirates in December and take part in a one-day tournament in the West Indies in January to prepare for the World Cup.
Assistant coach Raees Ahmadzai, who is looking after the team at the Asian Games, said the management wanted to build a true cricket culture among the players.
“That includes better fitness and learning how to perform in front of live TV because most of our big matches are televised these days,” Ahmadzai said. “Also, they need to learn to face the media.”