London, May 10 : The Afghanistan cricket team has set its sights on making an impact in the next edition of the World Cup in 2011.
At least that is what the coach of the team,Taj Malik, would have you belief.
This charismatic coach has been threatened by a suicide bomber for not picking a particular player, while his brother and one of his star bowlers bear the scars of bullet wounds from years of war, but 32-year-old Malik and his players say that nothing will stop them achieving their dream of getting to the Cricket World Cup in 2011.
The first step on the long journey begins at the end of this month, when they travel from the battle-scarred streets of Kabul to the Channel Islands. There they face such cricketing titans as Singapore, the Bahamas, Botswana, Japan and Jersey in their attempt to progress to the next qualifying stage.
"This is do or die ... I will throw myself in the Atlantic, if we lose," The Telegraph quotes Malik, as saying. But the most mouthwatering match for the Afghans is a potential knockout meeting with the United States. "Pray we beat them," Hameed Hassan, 20, who bowls at nearly 90 miles per hour.
Twenty-four-year-old Hasti Gul, a talented bowler and Malik's brother, is bullish about their chances.
"Inshallah we will win. We have no weakness in our team, our bowling, batting and fielding are all good. We will win the tournament and bring the cup to Afghanistan," he says.
Victory in Jersey, where most experts agree Afghanistan are favourites, would not lead straight to the World Cup. The team would still have to compete in - and finish in the top two of - tournaments in Tanzania and Argentina, and then finish in the top six in a tournament in the United Arab Emirates.
Afghanistan has had an international team only since the Taleban were ousted in 2001 but the potential is amazing. In 2006 the Afghans beat the MCC by 202 runs, getting the former England captain Mike Gatting out for a duck. Hamed Hassan, their fastest bowler, and team-mate Mohammed Nabi, 24, were recruited later by the MCC for several matches.
Story first published: Saturday, May 10, 2008, 12:41 [IST]
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