KABUL: Afghanistan is ready for the “huge honour” of making their landmark Lord’s debut, officials said ahead of next week’s match, after a fairytale rise catapulted them into the elite club of Test nations last month.
The young side will be taking on the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), led by former New Zealand skipper Brendon McCullum, in what officials hope will be an “historic” 50-overs match at the so-called “home of cricket” on July 11.
“Our national team will be playing with the MCC team, full of world cricket greats, and it will be a huge honour and experience for the team, as we will be playing for the first time there,” Farid Hotak, senior media relations officer at the Afghanistan Cricket Board, told AFP on Thursday.
The Afghan side includes Indian Premier League (IPL) stars Mohammad Nabi and teenage leg-spinner Rashid Khan, who took 17 wickets in his debut this year. Nabi was previously on the MCC Young Cricketers scheme.
Other players include captain Asghar Stanikzai, Noor Ali Zadran, Javed Ahmadi, Nasir Jamal, Samiullah Shenwari, Afsar Zazai, Shafiqullah Shafaq, Rahmat Shah, Gulbadin Naib, Dawlat Zadran, Shapoor Zadran and Farid Malik.
Both Afghanistan and Ireland were confirmed as full members at an International Cricket Council (ICC) meeting during its annual conference in London late June and will be eligible to play five-day Test cricket, widely regarded as the sport’s supreme format.
Walking onto the pitch at Lord’s will cap a dizzying rise for cricket-mad Afghanistan. Many Afghans’ first contact with the game only took place during the 1980s and 1990s, in Pakistani refugee camps sheltering millions who fled the Soviet invasion.
The game struggled in the late 1990s under the regime of the hardline Islamist Taliban, who viewed sports as a distraction from religious duties — and famously shaved the heads of a visiting Pakistani football team as punishment for wearing shorts.
But it has become hugely popular in the country since the Taliban were toppled in a US-led invasion in 2001.
Recent successes, particularly in last year’s ICC World Twenty20, have further raised the country’s profile.