Afghanistan hungry for tougher opposition after qualifying for 2015 World Cup

Image courtesy of: EuroSport

“It is a great moment in the history of Afghanistan”

Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB) chief executive Noor Mohammad Murad has announced that the national team are hungry for tougher opposition after beating Kenya 2-0 to qualify for the 2015 International Cricket Council (ICC) World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.

Mohammad hailed the national team’s achievement, calling it one of the greatest moments in the country’s history.

“It is a great moment in the history of Afghanistan,” Murad told ESPNcricinfo. “We have been waiting for this so long and these moments are not only huge for our cricket but for the entire nation. We have brought happiness to the faces of 30 million people back home, and it’s a proud moment for us that we became the reason to unite the nation.

“Our journey doesn’t end here. It’s a start of another phase and a new journey. We are not going to relax, we have a lot to do ahead of us. We have beaten all the Associate countries comprehensively and now we have set our sights at the next level to play Full Member [nations]. We want to be compared with the Full Member countries, and not at the Associate level. We want to rise more and more, and seek tougher opponents to play us.”

Approximately 3,000 fans packed Kabul’s only cricket stadium to witness the historical moment and there were also celebrations in the southern city of Kandahar, which is known as the birthplace of the Taliban movement.

“With cricket, we can change the face of the country and change the perception about us,” Murad said. “Around 75% [of the] population resides in mountains, but cricket bought them on the ground as a unit and they cheered for one cause. Our youngsters are thinking ahead of the war and changing things around them. Winning the World Cup berth can innovate the youth and help them transform their mind-set.”

Qualifying for the World Cup has given Afghanistan a much-needed financial boost as the national team will receive $1 million from the ICC in order to adequately prepare themselves for the tournament.

They will also be receiving $422,000 as part of the ICC’s Targeted Assistance and Performance Programme (TAPP).

In 2014, the top Associate and Affiliate Members, which includes Afghanistan, will be given approximately $750,000 through the ICC Development Funding Policy.

“We have a plan in place on a daily basis ahead of the World Cup, with the ACB guarding against complacency,” Murad said. “We have specific plans for the development, skill building and improvement of the fitness of our players. We are not going to take a back seat, ensuring that things move forward with consistency.

“Apart from the common man in the country, cricket is being taken beyond just a game. The political figures in the country are taking a keen interest, with his highness, Hamid Karzai [President of Afghanistan], calling me personally on the success.”

Afghanistan are in Pool A for the World Cup, which also includes Australia, New Zealand, Bangladesh, England and Sri Lanka.

Earlier this year, the ACB signed a deal with the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) with hopes of developing their players.

Murad praised the PCB for all their support, but slammed India and Bangladesh for snubbing his young and inexperienced side.

“We have been writing [to the BCB] for the last one-and-a-half years to play us, but they are not responding positively,” he said. “We are not expecting India to play us, but they can offer us the support through an exchange program for our U-19s, and can help in their development.

“They are our neighbours and have a bigger cricketing history than us. We have seen the example of England supporting Ireland and Scotland, and South Africa helping the other African countries, but we are really disappointed to see the lack of practical support by India and Bangladesh.”

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