Afghanistan seek to boost war-torn homeland

Tue Sep 18, 2012 3:05am EDT
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By Shihar Aneez

COLOMBO (Reuters) - Rising from the ruins of war to challenge the world's cricketing establishment, Afghanistan's rag-tag team hope to inspire the conflict-ravaged nation with a strong showing at the Twenty20 World Cup in Sri Lanka.

Afghanistan take on the might of India in their first group match in Colombo on Wednesday, having qualified for their second successive T20 World Cup.

The team's success against the odds, with many of its players born during the 1979-1989 Soviet occupation and knowing little of peace in their home nation, has drawn legions of Afghan youth to take up the game in recent years, according to captain Nawroz Mangal.

Mangal said some 70,000 youngsters had started playing cricket after his team's breakthrough qualification for the 2010 T20 World Cup in West Indies.

"Right now it is more than 500,000," Mangal said, referring to the country's cricket-playing population.

"After participating in this World Cup, if we do better I expect 30 to 40 percent of the population to start playing cricket."

Mangal led the team to a 51-run victory against a Sri Lanka ‘A' team on Saturday, with vice captain Mohammad Nabi scoring a 22-ball half-century with five sixes and wicketkeeper-batsman Mohammad Shahzad compiling a similarly quickfire 48.