Afghan youths play cricket in a field in Kabul. Picture: AFP
Afghan youths play cricket in a field in Kabul. Picture: AFP

War zones to World Cups: Afghanistan’s stunning rise

AUSTRALIA'S first World Cup opponent, Afghanistan, has transformed from war zones to World Cups inside a decade, leaving the country's "legend"  stunned by its rapid emergence as a cricketing nation ahead.

Mirwais Ashraf - who took 2-32 against Bangladesh at the 2015 World Cup and was unveiled as the Afghan legend at Thursday's launch party - said his country was now safe and also boasted a batch of teenage cricketers set to take the world by storm.

But one of those youngsters spoke in 2016 about how "the Taliban killed my father" before his brother vanished shortly after.

Four years ago Afghanistan trained underneath rockets launching into the sky and with gunships and helicopters flying ahead.

Former Queensland wicketkeeper Peter Anderson detailed that setting while discussing how scary life in Kabul was when he was Afghanistan assistant coach leading into the 2015 World Cup.

"I have missed bombings by being there 24 hours earlier," Anderson said at the time.

"At the airport and airport shops. It's about not being in the wrong place at the wrong time. You are always looking over your shoulder.

Afghanistan supporters have been vocal during their team’s rapid rise. Picture: AP
Afghanistan supporters have been vocal during their team’s rapid rise. Picture: AP

"I would go through seven or eight checkpoints a day. There are AK47s. To go and have a coffee I go through steel  doors and sit down in the safe room.

"There is always a presence of war. It is a dangerous city."

Ashraf said Afghanistan had come a long way on both fronts.

"Nothing is quite like that (rockets launching above training)," Ashraf told the Herald Sun.

"There's nowadays unity and stability in Afghanistan. No war there. Everything is going very positive and it is very normal."

Former Afghanistan cricketer Mirwais Ashraf says his country is now safe. Picture: AP
Former Afghanistan cricketer Mirwais Ashraf says his country is now safe. Picture: AP

Australian captain Aaron Finch labelled Afghanistan a "very dangerous side" with their elite spinners - Rashid Khan (Strikers), Mohammad Nabi (Renegades) and Mujeeb Ur Rahman - established names thanks to the Big Bash.

Yet Afghanistan, which won one game at the 2015 World Cup, had no ODI status a decade ago and was competing in World Cricket League Division Five in 2008

"I'm very excited because this time we are participating in World Cup as a full-member nation," Ashraf said.

"So this is an honour for Afghanistan and a historical day. We achieve in very quick time and the reason is great performances and the ICC give full member nation very quickly.

"Cricket is very famous in Afghanistan, especially in all provinces they are cheering the team and they are watching every game on a screen."

In 2015, Anderson prepared for Australia's hard and fast wickets by training with golf balls, taped-up tennis balls and batting on ceramic pitches.

But Ashraf said his players were used to English conditions this time around.

"Rashid is a world-class bowler. My expectation on Rashid is a lot for this World Cup, because he's used to this condition," he said.

"He's playing the County Cricket, Mujeeb is also playing the County Cricket, and Nabi is also playing here.

"We'll be targeting a few teams to beat them. Quite recently in Asian Cup we beat Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, West Indies."

Afghanistan secured its first Test win against Ireland recently and Ashraf said Afghanistan would soon emerge as a force.

"Amazing. We have very good talent, especially under-17 and under-19, and our domestic structures are going day-by-day stronger.

"Soon we will produce very soon such great cricketers for international cricket."