Page last updated at 09:58 GMT, Wednesday, 1 April 2009 10:58 UK

Afghan cricketers defy the odds

By Alex Capstick
BBC News

The Afghan cricket team
The Afghan team could play India or Pakistan if they reach the World Cup

The Afghanistan cricket team's remarkable quest for a place in the World Cup has entered its final leg.

They are in South Africa for a crucial qualifying tournament and beat Denmark in their opening game on Wednesday.

Afghanistan began their pursuit of a coveted 2011 World Cup place as a member of the lowest-ranked group of cricket-playing nations.

If they do win a place in the tournament it would be an unrivalled cricketing achievement.

Expectations surpassed

Never before has a team qualified for the World Cup finals from such a position.

The journey has involved tournament victories on the English Channel Island of Jersey, in Tanzania and then Argentina.

The Afghan cricket team
The Afghan team lacks adequate training facilities

Afghanistan have already surpassed all expectations.

Over the next 19 days in South Africa they will try to become one of four countries from outside the major cricket powers to qualify for the next World Cup finals.

Afghanistan have been preparing for the event in neighbouring Pakistan.

They simply do not have the resources in their war-ravaged homeland.

Coach Kabir Khan said that despite the lack of infrastructure, the team's success overseas had inspired youngsters back home to take up the sport.

"They want to play it no matter what's happening over there," he said.

Mr Khan said that several of the bigger provinces in Afghanistan are involved in cricket and there are more than 200 registered clubs.

Welcome distraction

"The problem is facilities, there are not enough facilities over there. For the facilities they bank on either Pakistan, India or Sri Lanka and things are getting tighter over there as well so obviously you don't know what's going to happen in the future."

An appearance in cricket's showpiece event, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Australia, India and England, would no doubt provide the development of the game in Afghanistan with a major boost.

It would also be a welcome distraction from the country's difficulties.

But getting there is going to be tough. Other teams with much more experience are favoured to finish above them. Once again, in order to progress, Afghanistan will have to upset the odds.

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