Lahore: Afghanistan's cricketers began a four-week training camp in Pakistan on Thursday as their coach set the minnows' sights firmly on qualifying for the 2015 World Cup. The Afghans will face a Pakistan A side in three games before their international clashes with Scotland in the United Arab Emirates in March. Coach Kabir Khan said he wanted his players to make the most of their time in Pakistan as they prepare to challenge for a place at the 11th edition of the World Cup, to be played in Australia and New Zealand.
Afghanistan narrowly missed out on a place at the 2011 World Cup in India when they finished fifth in the qualifying rounds. But their performance was enough to earn them the right to play one-day internationals. "We have one-day status till 2015 and it would be great if we achieve our target by playing well against Scotland and other minor teams in the World League and other qualifying matches," said Khan, who played four Tests and 10 one-day internationals for Pakistan.
Afghanistan will open their tour with a limited-overs match against a Combined XI on February 6 before taking on Pakistan A in a Twenty20 match the following day, both in Lahore. They will also play two 50-over matches against Pakistan A on February 8 and 9 as well as matches against a Combined Regional XI on February 11 and 13.
In March they play two one-day matches against Scotland at Sharjah Stadium, before taking them on in the ICC World Cricket League Championship. Cricket has become one of the most popular sports in war-ravaged Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. It was introduced by refugees who learnt the game in camps in Pakistan after the Soviet invasion of their country in 1979. Khan said the passion for the game is increasing in leaps and bounds.
"We held trials for Under-19 in Jalalabad last month and there were 600 boys vying to get into the Afghanistan team, and with stadiums in Jalalabad and Kabul ready we are planning to hold international matches in Afghanistan," he said.Afghanistan featured in the 2010 and 2012 World Twenty20 tournaments. Last year they took a major stride by playing one-day internationals against Pakistan and Australia at Sharjah -- their first against major Test-playing countries.