Panjshir and Laghman have become the first two teams to qualfiy for the semi-finals of Afghanistan’s inter-provincial 50-over competition.
Last Sunday, Panjshir, a province in the north-west of the country, qualified out of group A with a win over the heavily supported Khost. Unfortunately, Khost provided a big controversy when, seemingly knocked out, they got a reprieve and were allowed to stay in the tournament.
Khost were understandably disappointed that they had been knocked-out of the tournament after winning their only game. They were annoyed that they could be dumped out on run-rate when their representatives weren’t at the meeting which decides the rules for the competition. However, the way they went about venting their displeasure was damaging for Afghan cricket: Khost got their tribal leaders and ministers inside President Hamid Karzai’s cabinet to put pressure on the Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB); even the many Khost supporters occupied the pitch, which was supposed to be used for the match between the orignal quarter-finalists, Balkh and Panjshir. Sadly, the ACB caved into the demands from Khost and arranged for them to play Balkh. Khost won this match, but they lost their next match, the quarter-final, against Panjshir. The changes in the format, which were forced due to Khost’s whinge, were implemented for all the groups; hence each group has five matches instead of four as was planned.
This was a sad incident as cricket shouldn’t be affected by politicians.
Meanwhile, group B was a less controversal affair, although crucially, the standard of cricket dramatically improved. In group A, none of the teams played their full 50-overs, and scores of around 150 were often winning totals. However, in the first match of group B, Laghman completed their full quota of overs in their win against Kaspia. The next day Paktika scored a huge 319-9 in 50-overs, but Nangarhar went even better the following day when they smashed a massive 341.
After an exciting two-wicket victory over Nangarhar, Laghman met Paktika, for a place in the semis. More than 10,000 fans turned up – which meant the ground was 9,500 over-capacity. Laghman won a see-sawing match by 39 runs to join Panjshir in the semi-finals.
One of the features of the tournament has been the excitable crowds, who, due to lack of security, have often disrupted play when celebrating wickets and boundaries by charging on to the field. Regrettably for these fans, they have not been able see any members of the national team in action. The ACB, perhaps wisely, have asked the players to rest for the World Cricket League Division One in early July. This request has not stopped some of the players attending, though.
Semi-finalists: Panjshir and Laghman
Already out: Helmand, Baghlan, Wardak, Balkh, Khost, Kapisa, Herat, Badakhshan, Nangarhar and Paktika
Teams yet to play:
Group C: Jowzjan, Logar, Kabul, Kunar and Ghazni
Group D: Noristan, Zabul, Parwan, Kunduz, Kandahar and Pakia
Shortthirdman, as he is known, has been closely following Afghanistan cricket since April 2009. He also has a blog, called Short Third Man, which is about all things cricket.