Daily Dispatch

Making up more than numbers

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When automatic gunfire erupted across Kabul last week, residents initially feared yet another terror attack was under way.

Flag-waving crowds were instead marking another Afghanista­n cricket victory – this time over neighbours Pakistan – with pistols, shotguns and AK-47s blasting into the night sky.

The World Cup warm-up victory over the cricketing powerhouse illustrate­s how far the players from the war-torn country have come.

“If the Afghanista­n team play well, it will be a proud moment for all ethnic groups and for the entire nation,” 18-year-old Kabul resident Bashir Ahmad told reporters. The triumph was particular­ly sweet, as Afghans often blame Pakistan for their country’s security crisis and economic woes.

Afghanista­n secured their place in the World Cup, which started on Thursday, by beating Ireland on their way to winning last year’s qualifying tournament.

They will open their campaign against defending champions Australia in Bristol on Saturday, after a string of recent performanc­es that show they are more than just a feel-good story from a conflict-riven nation. They beat both Sri Lanka and Bangladesh in last year’s Asia Cup, and tied with eventual champions India.

But their build-up to the World Cup, which included a defeat at the hands of England, has not been without controvers­y. In April, successful captain Asghar Afghan was replaced with the little-known Gulbadin Naib, a move that drew widespread criticism on social media.

Training has been complicate­d by the holy month of Ramadan, which does not end until a few days after their first World Cup match.

“The Afghan cricket players are observing the whole month of Ramadan. They pray and they are devotees, and a very pious bunch of people,” Farid Hotak, the Afghanista­n Cricket Board spokesman, told reporters, adding that they had even fasted during training.

Ask any Afghan cricket fan and they will invariably mention spin bowler Rashid Khan, the world’s top-ranked Twenty20 bowler and the nation’s superstar.

The Afghan team has enjoyed a remarkable rise over the past decade and are seventh in the Twenty20 rankings.

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