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Page last updated at 15:55 GMT, Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Afghan cricketers brave Pakistan

Afghan cricket team captain Norooz Mangal holds up the trophy they won in the World Cricket League Division Three tournament in Argentina
The Afghan cricket team lacks adequate training facilities

When the Sri Lankan cricket team were attacked in Lahore recently few thought any international side would be visiting for many years.

The Afghan national side seem to be made of sterner stuff.

The head of the Afghan cricket board told the BBC that Pakistan offered "a more conducive cricket playing environment" than Afghanistan.

His side has no qualms about staying in the town of Peshawar, even though it too has been hit by militant violence.

'Not Lahore'

The Afghan cricket team is in Pakistan to train for the World Cup.

The side is now in Peshawar, capital of North West Frontier Province (NWFP), in preparation for a qualifying tournament that will soon be held in South Africa.

Qadeer Khan
Security around the ground in Peshawar is very tight and there are dozens of policemen guarding our team
Afghan coach Qadeer Khan

Afghan coach Qadeer Khan told the BBC that his team had originally planned to train in Lahore from 6-17 March, but were advised by the Asian Cricket Council (ACC) to swap venues following the attack on the Sri Lankan team earlier this month.

Up to 14 gunmen took part in the attack which killed six policemen and a driver and injured eight tour members.

The team was evacuated immediately and the Test series - the first in 14 months on Pakistani soil - was cancelled.

"We were told by the ACC that they had consulted the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) who had told us we could go anywhere we liked in the country to train but not Lahore," Mr Khan said.

"We chose Peshawar because as Afghans many of us have a linguistic and cultural link with the city. We feel safer here and it has far better facilities than anything available in Afghanistan."

'More dangerous'

Peshawar and the surrounding areas of NWFP close to the Afghan border are some of the most dangerous in Pakistan and have been at the centre of an insurgency led by the Taleban against the Pakistani army.

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

Afghanistan's ambassador-designate to Pakistan was kidnapped in the area last year and remains captive.

Peshawar has also been hit by outbreaks of sectarian violence in which its Shia community in particular has been targeted.

But the Afghan team say the city is no more dangerous than parts of their own country, which is currently a battleground between Taleban militants and Nato and US forces.

Even so, Mr Khan said that side was taking no chances.

"Security around the ground in Peshawar (the Arbab Niaz Stadium) is very tight and there are dozens of policemen guarding our team," he said.

The Afghan team is warming up for next month's International Cricket Council qualifying tournament in South Africa, where four teams can qualify for the 2011 World Cup.



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