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The rise of Afghanistan cricket is, as Tim Anderson puts it, “a wonderful story”. Anderson, the ICC’s global development manager, has hailed the rise of Afghanistan cricket as “a shining example” and praised the team’s remarkable ability to “overcome every challenge that has confronted them”. Afghanistan take the next step in their remarkable journey on Friday when they play Pakistan in an ODI in Sharjah. It is Afghanistan’s first ODI against one of the ICC Full Members and the first ODI between a Full Member and an Affiliate nation. A crowd of up to 14,000 is anticipated – more than watched any day of the recently concluded Test series between Pakistan and England in the UAE – and the match will be broadcast to millions more by Ten Sports.
The fact that Afghanistan remains, for now, an Affiliate member of the ICC – the third tier of membership, below the ten Test-playing nations and the 36 Associate nations) speaks volumes for their swift progress. As recently as 2008, they began in Division Five of the World Cricket League, playing the likes of Jersey, Botswana, Vanuatu, Japan and Nepal. They are now in Division One, pitted against Ireland, Kenya, Scotland and the Netherlands.
In the much longer term, it is going to be hard – morally, in particular – to limit the likes of Afghanistan and Ireland to World Cricket League encounters. Promotion and, as a consequence, relegation between the WCL and the Full Member nations seems like an obvious incentive and a way of generating spectator interest. As ever with these things, the self-interest of the main Test-playing nations may delay such a step. In the long term, however, it may well happen. Cricket is not and never has been all about winning and losing. Whatever happens on Friday, Afghanistan cricket can take enormous pride in the swift progress they have made in recent times and look to the future with a sense of optimism that would have been impossible only a few years ago. Cricket, like Afghanistan as a whole, has many issues; many problems. The example of the Afghanistan cricket team reminds us that the game can transcend them.
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