What Next for Afghanistan After Failing To Qualify for the World Cup?

Luke BroadbentCorrespondent IJanuary 19, 2017

The dream of a World Cup berth for Afghanistan is over. It was just one step too far, but the Afghans will not be leaving the ICC World Cup Qualifiers empty-handed.

Thanks to their heroics over the last year they have earned One Day International status for the next four years. So, while it feels rather disappointing that Afghanistan didn’t qualify for the World Cup, they have won the right to play against cricket’s elite.

However, with their great success comes, quite possibly, greater challenges.

Afghanistan has been ravaged by war for three decades. When one conflict draws to a close, another is waiting around the corner to plunge the country further into the abyss. The number of dead has, at least, reached a staggering 1,500,000 people, but the most worrying thing is that there appears to be no end to the bloodshed in sight.

So, the question is, who would want to play an ODI series in Afghanistan? Well, quite frankly, nobody.

Let’s just say, for argument’s sake, that someone did want to tour Afghanistan. Forget about the security issues. The country lacks any real cricket infrastructure.

Prior to the ICC World Cup Qualifier, all of the team’s training took place in Pakistan. The majority of their training was in top-of-the-range facilities in Lahore, but when terrorists targeted the Sri Lankan cricket team, Afghanistan’s training moved to Peshawar, which is much closer to the Afghan border, but it is also a rife with insurgency.

Playing their home matches in Pakistan would certainly have been an option a year ago, but in the present climate Pakistan is not much safer than Afghanistan. Pakistan’s recent troubles have even caused them to lose the right to host the 2011 World Cup.

When the world heard the devastating news about the terrorist attacks in Lahore, it became clear that international cricket would not be played in Pakistan for some time. Many people were saying that they could stage their home matches in the Middle East, somewhere like Dubai. Perhaps, that is an option Afghanistan could look into.

That’s the negativity out of the way. It’s time to focus on the positives.

The average age of the squad is only 25 years old, so they are certainly a young team that will be looking to qualify for the 2015 World Cup.

While the current crop of players is young, their recent success will undoubtedly encourage Afghan children to take up the game. The facilities in the country may not be of a particularly high standard, but it is firmly believed that one of the reasons for their rise to prominence is largely due to the Afghans’ natural ability.

ODI status means that they can pit their wits against far superior opposition than they have played in the past year. Surely that can only be a good thing.

In the past, some of the other ICC affiliates and associate members have been unceremoniously humiliated against far better teams, but if that does happen to Afghanistan, then surely it’s an invaluable learning process.

Towards the end of the year they will look to defend their ACC Twenty20 Cup trophy, which they jointly hold with Oman. The top three teams from this competition will progress to play in the 2010 Asian Games, where they will get to play the likes of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka.

Expectations amongst the Afghan public are at an all-time high. Cricket is something that is uniting the nation and bringing some joy into the lives of people who have suffered a lot down the years.

In a recent interview with Cricket365, the Afghanistan coach and former Pakistan test bowler, Kabir Khan, said, “People there (in Afghanistan) not only want us to qualify for the World Cup, they now want us to beat teams like India, Pakistan, and even Australia, so hopes are very high.”

There’s only one thing to say to that. If you are going to realize your dreams, first you have to dream.