PESHAWAR: Afghanistan coach Rashid Latif hopes to unearth new cricket stars among poor refugee communities during matches being played in the Pakistani border city of Peshawar, he said Friday.
Although Pakistan no longer hosts international cricket because of poor security, war-torn Afghanistan’s cricketers are crossing the border to play in volatile Peshawar because their main grounds are being renovated.
The area is home to thousands of Afghans who have fled decades of war and conflict in their poverty-stricken homeland, with many living in mud-brick refugee camps.
“Because of renovation work… we are playing a tournament of three-day matches in Peshawar followed by a Twenty20 and then a one-day tournament, and I hope these events will help us find more players,” Latif told AFP.
The former Pakistan wicket-keeper took over as Afghan coach last year and instantly helped them win the four-day Inter-Continental Cup, before guiding them to a shock win over Pakistan in the Asian Games Twenty20 semi-finals.
Afghanistan lost to Bangladesh in the final in Guangzhou, China.
Under Latif, Afghanistan shot up to International Cricket Council division one in 2009, enabling them to get one-day status, and then they qualified for the World Twenty20 held in the West Indies last year.
Most of the Afghan team learnt the game as refugees in Pakistani camps after Soviet troops invaded their country in 1979.
Latif, 42, said the three-day tournament is named after Ahmed Shah Abdali, a Muslim ruler regarded as the father of modern Afghanistan.
“We have included three national players in each of the six teams named after provinces of Afghanistan and have also included the Afghan under-19 team so that they can prepare for the qualifying round of the Junior World Cup,” said Latif, who played 37 Tests and 166 one-day matches for Pakistan.
Afghanistan’s under-19 team won an Asian qualifying event in the United Arab Emirates earlier this year and stands a good chance of qualifying for the Junior World Cup in Australia next year.
Latif said three-day matches will help the senior team, which is to defend its Inter-Continental title in July.
“The facilities provided in Peshawar are world-class so playing here will give our players a chance to improve and this is a great help from Pakistan,” said Ahmed Shah Taqseem, umpires’ manager.
Taqseem, who is also on the Afghanistan Cricket Board’s technical committee, said the country is determined to continue its improvement.
“We realise that in order to improve at an international level we need to strengthen our domestic set-up and we are endeavouring to do that,” said Taqseem, who also aims to represent his country as an international umpire.
“We have cricket in 28 of the 34 provinces in Afghanistan and out of these… we have brought five teams and an under-19 team here,” said Taqseem.
“We have a will to succeed in cricket and with help from Pakistan, the Asian cricket body and the ICC we feel the future is bright,” he added.