Winners for the fourth consecutive time, of the ACC Twenty20 Cup, Nepal, April 2013

Afghanistan’s expected elevation to ICC Associate status has been predicated not only on the performance of the national team in ACC and ICC events but on the development of their cricket inside the country. Ten years ago people were using downed helicopters as dressing rooms when playing cricket, now they have two fully-turfed international size-stadiums with a third on the way. It has been a remarkable rise.

Should Afghanistan be awarded ICC Associate status during the ICC Annual Conference at the end of June 2013, and all the indications are that it will happen, the news will cap an unprecedented ten years of cricket that has seen Afghanistan develop from a rag-tag group of unsophisticated cricketers representing a nation that didn’t know of cricket, to a nation that is thoroughly aware of the renown that these cricketers bring. As is the rest of the world.

Associate status is the one below Full Member in the ICC hierarchy. It means being another one of the current 36 Associates (from Argentina to Zambia, including seven ACC members) and not one of the 60 Affiliates. It means status, it means funding, it means having a platform to play better and more cricket.

The application for Associate status is built on a rigorous examination of a country’s cricket. Most of all its home cricket. Playing standards from junior to senior, administration, governance, facilities, finance, education: all these are assessed. The formal application submitted by the ACC on behalf of the Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB) in August 2012 runs to over 400 pages, and is as comprehensive and as thorough as any application there has ever been. Subsequently, the current ACB Chief Executive Dr. Noor Muhammad says “we have also developed a lot of policies including selection committee policy, code of conduct, financial policy, procurement policy.” The operating budget of the ACB has expanded from US$1million in 2010 to something close to US$3 million this year, and ACC and ICC funding makes up 33% to 50% of it (including ICC Targeted Funding). The rest is all from the government and private sectors.

“There is no doubt that cricket is now the major sport of Afghanistan,” says ACC Development Officer Iqbal Sikander who was the first recognised coach to work in the country back in 2003. The ACB want to take cricket to all of the country’s 34 provinces within the next few years. it is in 20 now, as evidenced by this year’s Etisalat ODN Provincial Challenge Cup, (up from 12 the year before), this in a country where cricket was unknown for centuries. 2500 filled the stands available at Behsood and Nangarhar in February for the event, if more could have been seated they would have come too. 20,000 came to watch when the National team took on the A-team and Regional Team in Nangarhar in three one-day matches in January. Three-day cricket is being introduced as well.

The team that took Afghanistan up from World Cricket League Division 5 to ODI status, and two World Twenty20s: some have retired, some are retiring – on and off the field. “To keep things going, that is the key,” says ACC Development Manager Bandula Warnapura, “the better the standard of cricket that there is in domestic cricket will create better cricketers to be trained at international level.”

National U-19 trials in 2011

Back in October 2011, the then ACB CEO Nasimullah Danish wrote to the ACC, requesting assistance in becoming Associate Members of the ICC: “The progress from the lower ranks to the world stage was a dream coming true. Nevertheless, maintenance of on-ground achievements require gigantic efforts off the field, otherwise the rise may remain short-lived and only a green patch in a dry desert.”

Cricket’s green shoots are reaching across the land mass of Afghanistan. Associate status in the right hands will allow further irrigation.

Afghanistan Cricket Profile

Filed May 2nd, 2013