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Last Updated: Wednesday, 5 July 2006, 08:43 GMT 09:43 UK
Kabul to Lord's
By Paresh Soni

After years of conflict and oppressive rule, Afghanistan is a nation playing catch-up.

Mohammad Nabi and Hamed Hassan
Nabi and Hassan are two of Afghanistan's brightests prospects

With massive infrastructure problems and violent clashes continuing, it will take years for a semblance of stability to set in.

It is quite remarkable then that the country is one of the rising young powers of world cricket.

In the five years since the Taleban regime was overthrown, the sport's popularity has soared - more than 2,500 players take part in various leagues - and a glut of talented youngsters have emerged.

The national team toured England for the first time last month, winning five of its six matches - including all three against the second XIs of Glamorgan, Leicestershire and Essex.

And two of that party are in the middle of a stint with the MCC Young Cricketers scheme.

Mohammad Nabi, 21, and 19-year-old Hamid Hassan caught the eye when playing for Afghanistan against the MCC in Mumbai earlier this year.

Off-spinning all-rounder Nabi struck a rapid century and paceman Hassan took 3-9 off six overs to earn rave reviews from former England captain Mike Gatting, who also took part in the match.

Nabi said: "We were refugees in Pakistan, which is where we were introduced to cricket and got the bug!

Yes there is fighting outside of Kabul but cricket has really taken off in the last five years

Mohammad Nabi

"When we returned after the fall of the Taleban, we joined club teams and we heard that Afghanistan had national teams.

"We were selected for the Under-17 team, of which I was the captain and we both put in some good performances.

"I was then selected for the senior side, scored 64 on my debut, got four wickets in my second and made a century in the third."

Despite the problems in their homeland, the duo insist sports such as cricket, football and gymnastics are thriving, and progress is being made.

"Things are really getting better," Nabi explained. "Yes there is fighting outside of Kabul, particularly in the Khash and Helmand regions.

"But cricket, which was not that popular even though the Taleban allowed it, has really taken off in the last five years.

"It seems people are playing it everywhere now and there are more and more organised tournaments."

Hassan says: "We have turf and concrete pitches, although it is usually concrete in schools. There aren't many proper cricket venues but the standard is pretty high - the academy is doing really well.

"In fact I'm counting the days till we go back."

This has been a great experience for us - we've had lots of fun and learnt about playing on different types of wickets

Hamid Hassan

The paceman is quick to add that is no reflection on the time the pair have spent in England.

Far from it, they believe they have made great strides and cannot wait to pass on the knowledge they have gained to their team-mates.

"This has been a great experience for us, we've had lots of fun here and learnt about playing on different types of wickets - from green seamers to turning pitches and batsmen's paradises, " Hassan explained.

"The coaching has also been the best we've ever received but I'm looking forward to getting back.

"We have a tournament in Malaysia that we can't wait to play in."

That is a reference to the Asian Cricket Council Trophy, in which Afghanistan will take on Qatar, Thailand, Iran and Indonesia.

After that, there are qualifying matches for the ICC Trophy, the tournament from which teams can win a place at the World Cup.

Things are looking up and Nabi and Hassan, who cite Wasim Akram and Andrew Flintoff as some of their role models, look like they have big roles to play.



SEE ALSO
Afghans make England tour debut
11 Jun 06 |  Cricket
Afghans receive cricket boost
12 Aug 03 |  Cricket
Afghanistan on historic tour
09 May 01 |  Cricket
Cricket takes off in Kabul
31 Mar 98 |  Despatches


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