Afghanistan's story is perhaps the most inspirational in cricket at the moment. A national team formed as recently as 2001, the war-torn nation has risen up the ranks at breakneck speed, securing a spot in the 2015 World Cup and playing in the ICC World Twenty20 -- due to be held in Dhaka from March 16 -- for the third consecutive time. At present however, the fastest risers in cricket are preparing for their debut appearance in the Asia Cup.
The sense of anticipation was palpable when skipper Mohammad Nabi took a seat for Afghanistan's pre-tournament press conference at a city hotel yesterday. "Credit should be given to the boys. They have worked hard and won the matches. We have a good combination since about eight to nine players have played together for long. We go out to win, not to lose. We now have the support from our board and we hope to move forward," Nabi said.
This team, still the first generation of international cricketers from the country, have been through much hardship to get to where they are. "There was no club, ground nor academies a few years ago. It was a multipurpose facility where football and other games like polo were played. At the end of the day, our hard work has paid off. It's because of all these hardships, we have become tough cricketers," Nabi said.
With new academies and clubs coming up, two international grounds in Kabul and Jalalabad and above all the successes of the national team, cricket has slowly but surely supplanted football as the most popular sport.
With their fast rise, it is easy to forget the kind of hardship and the day-to-day security threats they endure back home. "We do get worried whenever there are some incidents or bomb blasts. We only pray that our country becomes a peace-loving nation and other countries come and play cricket here. Sometimes because of the security problems, there is less sporting activity. Afghanistan is a lovely country -- we have some scenic locations with mountains, greenery and rivers," Nabi ended.
It is incredible, with news reports regularly highlighting the harsh realities of Afghan life, to see a side that has risen this fast and is brimming with talent. One can see cricket lovers of Bangladesh rooting for them pulling off an upset in the tournament, as long as it is not against the home side.