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Page last updated at 15:25 GMT, Tuesday, 21 April 2009 16:25 UK

Afghan cricketers back as heroes

By Martin Vennard
BBC News

Afghan cricket on 2 April
Afghanistan's Nawroz Mangal plays a shot against Bermuda

The Afghan national cricket team, which narrowly failed to qualify for the cricket World Cup finals, has made a triumphant return to Kabul.

The team missed out at a qualification tournament in South Africa by one place but did win one-day international status for the next four years.

Hundreds of cricket fans turned up at Kabul airport on Tuesday to greet their cricketing heroes.

The fans performed a traditional Afghan dance, the Atan, and played Dohl drums.

Members of parliament and Afghan officials were also among the welcoming party.

Facilities

The Afghans finished fifth out of the 12 teams competing for the four qualifying spots for the World Cup finals in 2011.

It was the first time the Afghans had tried to qualify for the finals.

There is no national cricket stadium in Afghanistan and facilities are very limited.

One of the returning players, opening batsman Karim Sadiq, said it was about time that changed.

"We want the ordinary people to pray for us because we don't have proper facilities. And we want just one thing from the government, that is the building of sports grounds for us, especially in those cities where cricket is played a lot, such as Jalalabad, Khost and Kandahar."

Cricket was only imported into the country in recent years by Afghan refugees returning from Pakistan, where they fled to escape the turmoil in their own country.

Despite that, the team managed to get through three previous qualifying rounds, and thanks to their performance in South Africa they can now take part in one-day cricket internationals and other major competitions.



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