LAUDERHILL, FLORIDA —
In a country ravaged by decades of strife, the sport of cricket has risen in Afghanistan from the ashes of wars to the world stage after the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001.
Afghanistan has an Associate Member Team, which is the International Cricket Board's (ICC ) second category, and it made headlines two months ago. The Afghan cricketers upset host Zimbabwe in Bulawayo, 3-2, becoming the first non-Test playing nation to win a multi-game one-day international series against a Test side.
With little history in the sport of cricket, the major win not only surprised many in the cricket-playing nations, but increased the chances of Afghanistan entering the group of top 10 cricket-playing nations in the ICC Full Member category.
An Afghan cricketer on the ground
The miracle rise of Afghan cricket has taken the team to many countries in Europe, Africa and Asia for competitions during the last few years. Last week, a group of Afghan cricket players for the first time came to the United States to play in the U.S. Open T20 series in Lauderhill - a suburb of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida - December 3-6.
The U.S. Cricket Council, which hosts the T20 cricket series, called the visit an important step in the sporting relationship between the two nations.
And Jamie Harrison, head of the U.S. Cricket Youth Association, believes cricket can play an important role in bringing peace to Afghanistan.
“Cricket is spreading the message of love and peace wherever there is war and hatred. The sport brings nations closer to each other by closing distances among them," Harrison told VOA. "Cricket players are ambassadors of peace."
This was the seventh year of the T20 Cricket Series in the United States, and Afghanistan's participation for the first time received a warm welcome from the event's organizers.
Noorulhaq Malakzai, one of the five Afghan cricket players who played in the Florida series said, “Afghan cricket players have come with a message of peace, and we want to show the world through our participation in sport events that we are a peace-loving nation."
Malakzai told VOA when they face other players in major sports events, the world comes to know that Afghans have not been deterred by wars and strife, and they can still play at the world level.
Cricket Council USA Chairman Mohammed Amin Markatia said when they see Afghans playing better cricket than their U.S. counterparts, they are not only pleasantly surprised, but feel envious that U.S. cricket is still behind Afghanistan, despite all the facilities and resources they have.
Markatia told VOA this was just the beginning. They are looking forward to more such exchanges between the two nations in the field of cricket, and Afghanistan’s National Cricket Team will be invited to visit the United States in the near future.
Around 200 players from around the world played in the U.S. Open T20 Cricket Series, which featured club teams. The five Afghan cricketers joined the Florida-based Kendall Stars. Unfortunately, persistent rain impacted the tournament and teams fell far short of playing enough games in to crown a champion, so organizers divided up the $100,000 in prize money equally among the teams.
But the Afghan players got special attention for taking part in the series for the first time. They won the attention and hearts of locals and officials and were recognized for their nation's surprising achievements in the sport in a very short time, despite political turmoil and lack of first class cricket facilities in their country.