How Afghanistan's Fairytale Cricket Journey Started In Dubai

(MENAFN- Khaleej Times) Published: Tue 25 Jun 2024, 10:38 PM

As people came out to the streets across Afghanistan to celebrate their historic run to the T20 World Cup semifinals, Rashid Latif, former Pakistan captain, rejoiced at the emerging team's latest exploit on the global stage.

Afghanistan captain Rashid Khan (left) and Gulbadin Naib celebrate the win over Bangladesh. - AFP

Barely seven months after narrowly missing out on a semifinal spot at the ODI World Cup despite a string of wins over big teams, the Afghans made history in the T20 format with a nail-biting 8-run win over Bangladesh to set up a semifinal clash with South Africa.

It's an astonishing achievement for a team from a war-torn country which had only started to play cricket at a serious level about a decade ago.

Mazher Arshad, a well-known cricket statistician, put things in perspective after the final Bangladesh wicket sparked wild celebrations on the field and across Afghanistan.

“16 years ago, Afghanistan were in Division 5 of ICC World Cricket League and were playing against the likes of Japan, Singapore, Botswana etc,” Arshad wrote on X.

“Today, they are in the semifinal of ICC T20 World Cup ahead of the likes of Australia, New Zealand, Pakistan, West Indies etc.”

So how did Afghanistan, a country with no cricketing history until the start of this century, become such a formidable force in the sport?

Latif, a world-class wicketkeeper in the 1990s, has the answer because it was under him as the head coach that Afghanistan first started taking big strides in cricket, winning the silver medal at the 2010 Asian Games in which they stunned Pakistan in the semifinals.

But the turning point, according to Latif, came at the Dubai International Stadium a few months before the start of the 2010 Asian Games in China.

A young Afghan team made up of players who mostly learned cricket at refugee camps in Peshawar grabbed the attention by beating Scotland in the 2010 ICC Intercontinental Cup final in Dubai.

“I think that win in Dubai was the turning point. It was a very big achievement for a young team,” Latif told the Khaleej Times from Karachi.

“The prize money was $100,000. Those days there was hardly any money in Afghanistan cricket. So that victory and that prize money was a big motivation for players to take the next big step.

Rashid Latif (centre) with the Afghan team after winning the silver medal at the 2010 Asian Games. - Supplied photo

“After that, we went to the Asian Games. We beat Pakistan in the semifinals, that was a very big achievement as well.”

Very few people know that Abdul Rahman Bukhatir, the visionary Emirati cricket promoter, also offered a helping hand by allowing Afghanistan, who were unable to host international matches due to security reasons, to play their home matches at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium.

Afghan cricket went from strength to strength, making their T20 World Cup debut in 2010 before making their first appearance at the ODI World Cup in 2015.

Three years later, Afghanistan made their Test debut in a one-off match against India in Bangalore.

Now their players ply their trade in the world's best T20 leagues, including the cash-rich Indian Premier League (IPL).

At the international level, it's their fearless approach which has made them a dark horse in every World Cup.

Ironically, Latif finds shades of Australia, who were knocked out of the tournament after losing to Afghanistan, in the Afghan approach to cricket.

“They have the aggressive mindset of Australia. The aggressive cricket, the power, fitness level everything about them is very Australian,” Latif said.

“They are also very brave, they keep playing even if they are hurt. They just want to compete until the last ball. They leave everything on the field.”

As the former Afghanistan coach, Latif's heart was swelling with pride after the team quelled the Bangladesh threat on Monday to reach the semifinals.

“I am feeling very proud, it's a very big achievement for Afghanistan cricket,” he said.

“They are very aggressive in cricket, they have very good game awareness,” he added before showering skipper Rashid Khan with praise.

“Rashid has led from the front. He has been brilliant with the ball as well. The way the whole team have performed in the Super Eights, players like (Rahmanullah) Gurbaz, Naveen (ul Haq), Gulbadin (Naib), Noor (Ahmad), (Mohammad) Nabi, all these players have been playing in top franchise leagues, including the IPL. So they have the experience.”

Latif says even the CVs of the most experienced coaches would remain incomplete without a stint with the Afghanistan team.

Rashid Latif (right) during his stint as Afghanistan coach in Kabul. - Supplied photo

“I always say that if you are a famous and successful coach, but if you haven't coached Afghanistan, something is missing in your CV,” he said.

“You can learn a lot about the game by coaching Afghanistan. You go there to coach, to train, to teach, but you end up learning a lot about cricket and team spirit.

“I think it's because they have a very positive attitude, no negativity in their team. They just want to do something and prove themselves on the big stage. There is no ego of star players. They always want to learn, they are very respectful. I think that's one of the reasons why they are fast learners.”

But Latif, who predicted on June 17 that Afghanistan would be among the semifinalists, believes South Africa have the edge in the last four clash on Wednesday (4:30 am Thursday UAE Time).

“South Africa are the favourites. They are a very good team. For Afghanistan, a lot will depend on their batting, and how well Gurbaz plays. He is the key in terms of them getting a good score. Ibrahim Zadran as well,” he said.

“If they can put up a score of 160 or 170 batting first, then it will be game on. Then Rashid, Noor, Nabi, Naveen, Gulbadin will fancy their chances of getting wickets.

“So you can't write them off. If they reach the final, it will be the biggest day in cricket history.”


  • Afghanistan beat Bangladesh to reach T20 World Cup semis, Australia go home
  • T20 World Cup: Rohit vows to attack England in semis after Australia onslaught
  • Warner bows out of international cricket after Australia's World Cup exit


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