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Page last updated at 19:18 GMT, Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Cabinet 'ignores' Afghan cricket

By Bilal Sarwary
BBC News, Kabul

Afghan cricket team captain Norooz Mangal holds up the trophy they won in the World Cricket League Division Three tournament in Argentina
Cricketers say the response of the cabinet has been disappointing

The Afghan cricket team says it is disappointed not to have got more recognition after progressing to the final stages of the 2011 World Cup.

The team won the World Cricket League Division Three tournament in Argentina on Saturday and is now one tournament away from the finals themselves.

But no cabinet minister greeted the team when it returned to Kabul in front of hundreds of supporters on Tuesday.

The lack of official representation was "regrettable", a cabinet minister said.

'Big achievement'

''We were very disappointed that there was no cabinet minister, vice president or president to welcome us home following our extraordinary achievement," batsman Mohammad Raees Ahmadzai said.

Members of the Afghan cricket team
The Afghan team has recently come on in 'leaps and boundaries'

"It shows that they don't like cricket or our team. But we couldn't believe it when we saw people dancing and cheering in the cold weather.''

Another team member was also disappointed over the lack of senior government recognition.

''President Karzai is a big supporter of our team. He is running a country at war - we are not upset with him. But ministers should have been there. This is a big achievement for Afghanistan. But our victory and team belongs to the Afghan people not to ministers.''

The cabinet minister contacted by the BBC said that the whole country was delighted with the cricket team's success, but official engagements had prevented them from attending the homecoming.

"Yesterday President Karzai instructed the finance minister to allocate a separate fund for our cricket team to foster its development. We do care deeply about our team - we are all proud of them,'' the minister said.

Because the country was never part of the British Empire, cricket has not been as popular in Afghanistan as it has been in countries such as India, Pakistan or Sri Lanka.

Grassroots

However its popularity grew following the 1979 Soviet invasion of the country, forcing millions of refugees to pour into neighbouring Pakistan where they took up the game.

Rather than spending their childhood under the guidance of professional trainers, Afghan cricketers depended on each other in the camps to refine their technique.

Players lacked funds and had no proper pitches, just a love of the game.

Admirers says that it is in part due to such harsh beginnings that the team has emerged as a truly cohesive unit, with players building on each other's strengths and weaknesses to produce a tactically formidable squad.

News of the team's victory dominated local television and radio stations, and sparked euphoria throughout a country facing daily suicide attacks and civilian casualties.

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