October 5, 2013 in Nation/World

Afghanistan’s cricket victory boosts spirits

Hashmat Baktash Los Angeles Times
Associated Press photo

Afghan cricket fans celebrate as they watch a match between Afghanistan and Kenya on a screen at the International Cricket Stadium in Kabul, Afghanistan.
(Full-size photo)

KABUL, Afghanistan - In a victory that brought cheer to this war-torn nation, Afghanistan on Friday beat Kenya in a one-day international cricket match to advance to the World Cup for the first time in its troubled history.

Unfortunately, most of its fans couldn’t enjoy the sweet taste of success in person as their team beat Kenya. Afghanistan can’t play at home because of the security situation, and its stands at the United Arab Emirates stadium were largely empty. But that didn’t deter members of the winning team, who ran onto the field carrying a giant Afghanistan flag.

Back home, there was joy and celebration as word of the victory spread. Thousands of people marched, danced and drove through Kabul’s normally muted streets cheering, honking and shooting guns in the air.

At Kabul’s only cricket stadium, about 3,000 people stood on the field watching the match live on a large screen, waving flags and celebrating.

“Kenya has (115) years of cricket and we have 10,” said Maiwand Habib Wardak, 28, a security official. “Now we’ve proved we can take on any team in the world.”

The vast majority of cricket-playing nations picked up the game from their former British colonial masters. Afghanistan embraced the sport after the 1979 Soviet invasion, when millions of Afghans fled to neighboring cricket-crazy Pakistan.

Afghan cricket has received financial support from Persian Gulf nations, especially the United Arab Emirates, which since 2010 has let the Afghan national team use the 25,000-seat Sharjah Cricket Club stadium so it has someplace to call home.

As the game’s popularity has grown, Afghanistan has increasingly come to resemble the rest of South Asia, with every alley or patch of rough ground transformed into a cricket pitch by youngsters using homemade bats and balls. At least 2,000 teams now play in provincial, regional and national competition, with leagues in Kabul and Jalalabad attracting large crowds in stadiums once used as Taliban execution grounds.

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