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Afghans Relishing Their First Cricket World Cup

Demotix image ID: 4058137.  Afghanistan cricket fans wave flags during the match against Bangladesh in Asia Cup 2014 at Khan Saheb Osman Ali Stadium in Fatullah, Narayanganj. Image by md Manik.

Demotix image ID: 4058137. Afghan cricket fans wave flags during the match against Bangladesh in Asia Cup 2014 at Khan Saheb Osman Ali Stadium in Fatullah, Narayanganj. Image by md Manik.

Afghanistan's national cricket team is preparing for its first World Cup, which will be hosted by Australia and New Zealand from February 14 to March 29. The team, coached by Andy Moles and captained by Mohammad Nabi Esakhi has already touched down in Australia and will face Bangladesh on February 18. 

Despite a stark lack of funds and facilities, cricket's popularity at home is peaking, providing a tool to unify the country.

The 2015 International Cricket Council (ICC) World Cup consists of 14 teams including Afghanistan, Australia, Bangladesh, England, India, Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa, Sri Lanka, United Arab Emirates, West Indies, and Zimbabwe.

Afghan national cricket team with President Ghani. Image taken from Afghanistan Cricket Board's Facebook page.

Thousands of Afghans took to the streets to celebrate their team's victory over Nepal in a qualifying round. The game is not new to the republic, which shares borders with cricket-mad Pakistan and India, but during decades of war, sports took a back seat.

This was especially the case under the Taliban, who famously banned football and used the national stadium for public executions. Cricket was one of the few non-violent physical activities the radical regime favoured, but little was done to develop the sport. 

On Twitter, Bilal Sarwary shared an image of people in the country playing their favourite sport:

Shaista Sadat Lameh, an Afghan journalist, wished the team success:

I wish success to my team! Today, Afghan national cricket team left for Australia

And a well-to-do businessman apparently announced a reward for the first Afghan batsman to make a century in their first game:

مدثر اسلامی concluded that the days of proxy-supporting were over, now the country had a team it could be proud of:

Despite losing a warm-up match against India, the Afghans secured victories against both Ireland and Scotland as they prepared for the tournament. Those wins have led to a surge of optimism ahead of their first Cricket World Cup fixture against Bangladesh. But for many ordinary Afghans, after years of watching international sporting tournaments from a distance, it is being there that is most important of all. 

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