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Page last updated at 20:59 GMT, Friday, 1 May 2009 21:59 UK

Cricket rematch spectacle for Afghanistan

The Ditchling v Afghanistan cricket match in Kabul (1 May 2009)

By Martin Patience
BBC News, Kabul

It could have been any village green in Britain.

But the barbed wire, blast walls, and spectators in military uniform, meant this was no ordinary match.

The cricket team from Ditchling, a small village in East Sussex, were taking on the Afghan national side in a heavily fortified military base.

It had taken eight months to organise this "away game", a trip which was causing some worry back home.

"My mum's been pretty quiet about it but my dad had a lot to say," said James Emmons, 23, one of the Ditchling players.

"He wasn't overly keen on it."

We will invite Ditchling again, when we have a decent ground and good security
Khalik Dad Noori

"The security restrictions we've had to go through have been pretty intense. But there've been no scary moments so far."

More than 100 spectators turned up to watch the game, an almost unheard of spectacle in Kabul.

They ate cheese and tomato rolls and turkey sandwiches, and drank green tea, which were laid on for the match.

Occasionally the flat notes of an Afghan trumpet player floated across the ground.

Deeper ties

The Afghan team celebrate their victory against Ditchling in Kabul (1 May 2009)
The Afghan team overwhelmed the players from Ditchling

The Afghan national side had first placed Ditchling in 2006 after an English country team they were supposed to play dropped out and the village club offered to step in as opponents.

After the game, the Afghans suggested a rematch, this time in Kabul, an event no-one in Afghanistan thought would ever happen.

"It's amazing that the team visited Afghanistan," said Hamid Hassan, one of the Afghan national cricketers. "We're thrilled to have them here."

Another Afghan player, Khalik Dad Noori, said that he hoped the event would deepen ties between the two sides.

"We will invite Ditchling again, when we have a decent ground and good security," he said. "We also want to ask other country teams to come to Afghanistan."

Since the teams' first encounter three years ago, the Afghan side have improved dramatically.

Last month they almost qualified for the Cricket World Cup.

And during the match in Kabul, the Afghan team, batting first, quickly found their stride. The balls were flying over the boundary.

Ditchling were overwhelmed.

The Afghans won the match by 124 runs, retaining the Kabul Cup, a trophy contested between the two sides.

The players from East Sussex now say they want a rematch - but next time it is expected to be at home.

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