Afghanistan’s Cricket Team Is On The Verge Of Winning A World Cup Semifinal Spot Tonight—Despite Boycott Threats

Topline

The Afghan men's national cricket team will have the chance to secure a historic semi-final slot at the ongoing Twenty20 World Cup on Monday and knock out one of the sport’s biggest dynasty teams, despite facing upheaval and boycotts by top international teams after the Taliban’s takeover of the country in 2021.

afghanistan’s cricket team is on the verge of winning a world cup semifinal spot tonight—despite boycott threats

Gulbadin Naib of Afghanistan celebrates with teammates after dismissing Tim David of Australia. ICC via Getty Images

Key Facts

In a tournament littered with several high-profile upsets, including a surprise U.S. run, the Afghan team pulled off the biggest one in their sporting history on Saturday night when they beat former world champions and pre-tournament favorites Australia in the World Cup’s Super-8s round.

Afghanistan will take on Asian rivals Bangladesh on Monday night, and they need a win to give themselves a strong chance of qualifying for the semis.

Before they take the field, however, the Afghan team will hope the Indian team wins its game against Australia on Monday morning or have the game washed out.

If the results go their way, Afghanistan could find themselves in second place behind India—ahead of Australia in their Super 8s group and knock the former champions out of the tournament.

While India and Australia are the game’s two big powerhouses, Afghanistan played its first major cricket tournament in 2010 and has never reached the semi-finals of a world event before.

Key Background

The Afghan cricket team emerged as one of the sport’s biggest feel-good success stories in the past decade. Starting as a team made up of players from refugee camps in Pakistan, the Afghan national team saw a meteoric rise in the 2010s with the emergence of young homegrown—many of whom were born after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. The team’s 25-year-old captain and talisman bowler Rashid Khan has emerged as one of the highest-paid stars in franchise cricket.

News Peg

The fairytale story, however, hit a road bump in 2021 after the Taliban’s takeover of the country, following the withdrawal of U.S. troops. After taking over, the Taliban took control of the cricket administration in the country and appointed a new CEO, Naseeb Khan. Having heavily restricted women from nearly all walks of public life—like work, study, or going outdoors in public—the Taliban also banned the Afghan women’s cricket team from playing the sport. While the men’s team was not directly affected by the decree, and they continue to play under the pre-Taliban black, red and green Afghan flag, their ability to play international games has been hindered by boycotts. Earlier this year, Australian cricket authorities canceled a planned three-match series against the Afghan team, blaming the “deteriorating human rights for women and girls in the country under Taliban rule.” This was the third time Australia had canceled a planned series of games against Afghanistan since the Taliban’s takeover. England Cricket Board officials have also said they will not play any bilateral games against Afghanistan unless the Taliban ditches its ban on women’s cricket. There were some concerns about the Taliban-controlled Afghan Cricket Board losing its International Cricket Council membership but this has not yet happened.

Crucial Quote

After his team won on Saturday night, Khan spoke about the Australian team's reticence to play against them in bilateral games: “Cricket is the only source of happiness back home. That's the only source left in Afghanistan where people could celebrate. And if we keep that source away from us, I don't know where Afghanistan will remain…So, yeah, if we play [against Australia] in the World Cup, why don't we play in bilateral series? I think we're happy to play against the best side.”

Further Reading

'Cricket is the only source of happiness back home': Afghans celebrate big win (BBC News)

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