Afghanistan, Norway dream of playing

PARIS - It may sound far-fetched, but war-torn Afghanistan and ski-crazy Norway are dreaming about playing in the 2011 Cricket World Cup.

PARIS - It may sound far-fetched, but war-torn Afghanistan and ski-crazy Norway are dreaming about playing in the 2011 Cricket World Cup.

On paper, the odds are against them.

They would have to win numerous promotions in the World Cricket League to get near the qualifiers but overcoming the odds is second nature to these two teams.

Afghanistan players learnt the game as refugees in Pakistan; the Norwegian team, mostly made up of the sons of Pakistani expatriates, is sponsored by a Tandoori restaurant.

Shahzada Masoud, president of the Afghanistan Cricket Federation (ACF), warns that his side should not be underestimated and likes to recall a tale of when the national side toured England.

"When we visited the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst there were Afghan cadets in the academy who said that people were actually laughing about the fact that we were coming to play cricket against them," said Masoud.

"And then Afghanistan won... The better the team, the better we play."

Despite having Pakistan as a neighbour, cricket has been slow to catch on in Afghanistan. It was a situation not helped by the fact that the former Taliban regime banned all sport.

"I think it caught on during the 1987 World Cup in Pakistan, where there was coverage," said Masoud

He believes that if Afghanistan returns to stability, the game could flourish.

Thousands of miles away in chilly Oslo, it is -10C but inside a sports hall, Norway's restaurant-sponsored national cricket team is sweating it out at their weekly practice.

"So far, we have lost only six matches out of 40. As chief selector, I have done my job," Khalid Mahmood, 47, proudly tells AFP.

Playing cricket for Norway is far from easy. Finances are tight.

Norway's official backer is Oslo's Shalimar Tandoori restaurant. The team runs on a yearly budget of about 150000 Norwegian kroner (R180000), financed mainly by subscriptions.

"I don't know if we can, but then you never know with cricket," said player and waiter Sheraz Khalid, 21.

The likes of Afghanistan and Norway will find out where they stand in the sport next year when they play in Division Five of the World Cricket League. - Sapa-AFP

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