Afghans celebrate their men's cricket team reaching first Twenty20 World Cup semifinals

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Afghans in their thousands took to the streets to celebrate their men's national cricket team reaching the Twenty20 World Cup semifinals for the first time on Tuesday.

Afghanistan beat Bangladesh by a nervy eight runs in St. Vincent in the Caribbean to qualify ahead of 2021 champion Australia.

Big screens in various cities drew huge gatherings, even though the match started at 5 a.m. Kabul time.

“I can’t find words to explain my happiness at this moment, it is a massive victory for all Afghans,” said Shah Mohammad, 42, from Kabul. “We are so proud of our national team. They have created such a happy moment for us, and now we are optimistic that the team will make it to the final.”

In the semifinals, Afghanistan will take on unbeaten South Africa in Tarouba, Trinidad on Wednesday night (Thursday morning for Afghans). India plays defending champion England in the other semi.

“All (eyes) on the next one !!,” Afghanistan captain Rashid Khan posted on X. “This is for each and every (Afghanistan) fan who believed in us and kept us going.”

Khan was congratulated in a video call after the match by Taliban acting minister of foreign affairs Amir Khan Muttaqi.

Former president Hamid Karzai also applauded the team and the country. “I offer my heartfelt congratulations to all the countrymen, especially the players of the national cricket team, and wish them continued success,” Karzai wrote on X.

The Afghanistan Cricket Board displayed pictures of the jubilant cricketers including Khan and Gulbadin Naib embracing after the team defended a small revised total of 114 runs against Bangladesh.

“This VICTORY means the world to us!,” the ACB wrote on X. “Congratulations to the entire nation.”

Afghan cricket fans in different countries celebrated the historic achievement by posting videos of them doing the national dance, known as Attan.

Afghanistan's feat is a mild surprise. It was building to it. It reached the second round at the last three T20 World Cups. This time, it knocked out New Zealand in the group stage, and beat former champion Australia for the first time last weekend.

Three of the top five wicket-takers in the tournament are from Afghanistan. Fast bowler Fazalhaq Farooqi has a leading 16. Khan, who grabbed a match-winning four-wicket haul against Bangladesh, has 14. Fast bowler Naveen-ul-Haq has 13.

The opening pair of Rahmanullah Gurbaz and Ibrahim Zadran have stitched together three century partnerships and are among the top three leading run-scorers in the tournament with 281 and 229 respectively.

Rashid, who was carried on the shoulders of his teammates during a victory lap in St. Lucia, believed their performances will inspire Afghan youth.

Those youth, however, will not include girls. As phenomenal as the men's success is, it puts in stark contrast the fate of the women's national team, which was dropped as soon as the Taliban seized power in 2021 after the United States and NATO forces withdrew after two decades of war.

The Taliban have used their interpretation of Islamic law to ban girls from education after age 11, ban women from public spaces, and exclude them from many jobs.

The International Cricket Council has helped to develop the Afghan men but not penalised them for not offering any women's cricket.

The ICC's stance has come into sharper focus as Afghanistan has grown more successful.

“I think the semifinal is going to be a massive, massive inspiration for the youngsters back home in Afghanistan,” Rashid said. “We have done it at under-19 level (two World Cup semifinals), but this level we haven’t done that. Even Super Eight was first time for us and then in semis. It’s an unbelievable feeling.”


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