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Under-19 World Cup 2022 – Afghanistan set to leave for the Under-19 World Cup on January 12

Under-19 World Cup 2022 - Afghanistan set to leave for the Under-19 World Cup on January 12

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Squad was held up in Dubai, waiting on visas to fly to the Caribbean for the tournament that begins on January 14

The Afghanistan Under-19 men’s team is “very, very excited” after being cleared to travel to the Caribbean to participate in the World Cup, which starts on January 14.

Earlier in the week, there were doubts over Afghanistan’s participation in the 16-team tournament due to visa glitches. As a result, Afghanistan’s two warm-up games, against England on January 10 and UAE on January 12, were cancelled.
The Afghanistan squad had arrived in Dubai on December 20 to participate in the Under-19 Asia Cup, which took place between December 23 and 31. With the UK embassy in Kabul currently shut, the Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB) had decided that the players and support staff would apply for visas in the UAE to travel to the World Cup.

However, uncertainty over the visas mounted as the days passed and a scenario of Afghanistan failing to get the paperwork needed to travel to the World Cup was not ruled out until late on Monday, when the UK government granted the necessary transit visas minutes before its consulate closed in Dubai. The Afghanistan group will now take a flight from Dubai early on January 12 morning to Manchester, followed by a connecting flight to the Caribbean.

“When they heard the news they were very, very excited,” Raees Ahmadzai, Afghanistan U-19 head coach, told ESPNcricinfo. “It was the best news for all these young boys. They want to do something very special in the World Cup.”

This will be Afghanistan’s seventh appearance in the Under-19 World Cup. Since first qualifying for it in 2010, they’ve made every subsequent edition. Their best finish came in 2018 in New Zealand, where they made the semi-finals. This is the second Under-19 World Cup for Ahmadzai as head coach – under him, Afghanistan finished seventh in 2020.

Afghanistan are placed in Group C alongside Pakistan, Zimbabwe and Papua New Guinea this time around. The top two teams from the pool qualify for the quarter-finals, while the bottom two from each pool will compete in a playoff round. As things stand, Afghanistan are set to open their campaign on January 16 against Zimbabwe in Trinidad. But with both the warm-up matches cancelled due to the travel delay, their biggest challenge now is the absence of any preparation as they had only “3-4 days’ practice” after the Asia Cup.

But what’s more important, according to Ahmedzai, is the fact that Afghanistan will participate in the tournament. “I will say it is good news. We will adjust ourselves there, but participating in the World Cup is something very special for the fans, for the lovers of cricket in Afghanistan, for the country,” he said. “It is something very special in this kind of situation right now back in our country because the whole young generation, they are waiting and they are very excited to see Afghanistan in the World Cup. Cricket is more than a game for us now.

“At the junior level if you representing the country for the first time or participating in the World Cup, it is something very special for the players. That is why they came out of their rooms today and celebrated in a special way [after the visa clearance].”

Ahmadzai said the players have been boosted by their performance in the close defeat against India in the Asia Cup. Afghanistan set a target of 260 which India surpassed with four wickets in hand and eight balls to spare in a group-stage match.

“They realised if they are more focused and remain positive during the game, they can beat any team in the World Cup,” he said. “That game gave very good morale to our players.”

Nagraj Gollapudi is news editor at ESPNcricinfo


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