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Afghanistan Reaches Cricket World Cup, Provides 'Symbol Of Hope'04:18
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The 2015 Cricket World Cup is underway in Australia and New Zealand. Afghanistan is making its first-ever World Cup appearance.

The team's qualification may be “an early contender for the most remarkable and unlikely sports storyline of 2015,” writes USA Today sports reporter Martin Rogers.

Rogers joined Only A Game's Karen Given to explain.

There's no doubt that this team has been a symbol of hope, and you do now see kids playing in the streets.

Martin Rogers, USA Today

"Obviously we all know about the incredibly serious social troubles," Rogers said. "It still remains a war-torn nation, but this group of players, who are battling the odds against some of the best teams in the world, have really done a tremendous job just to get to the World Cup."

Cricket is relatively new to Afghanistan. Just a decade ago, Rogers writes, the sport had "no organized structure." The game wasn't even particularly popular as a recreational sport.

"It really didn't have any kind of footing at all," Rogers said. "And most of these players who are now representing their country — and representing it with pride — learned to play in refugee camps in Pakistan, where the game is obviously very popular. A lot of people just sort of picked it up from there with the most basic kind of equipment that you should imagine."

Afghanistan's captain, Mohammad Nabi, is among the players who learned the game that way.

"His family were refugees following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, obviously during the early part of the 1980s, and he really learned to play cricket with nothing much more than sort of sticks for a bat and a battered tennis ball in this refugee camp," Rogers says.

Nabi was picked up by a local men's team in Pakistan. He was then spotted by a visiting team from England and given a scholarship to play in Britain. Now he's representing Afghanistan at the World Cup.

[sidebar title="India Vs. Pakistan" width="630" align="right"]Sports can take on political undertones as it did when India and Pakistan played a three-game cricket series in 2012. Only A Game’s Ken Shulman attended the matches in Dehli and Calcutta.[/sidebar]

"[He's] now captain of his national team and a hero in that country," Rogers said. Meanwhile, the sport's popularity in Afghanistan has ballooned.

"I think there's an argument to be made that it's very much the national sport," Rogers said. "There's no doubt that this team has been a symbol of hope, and you do now see kids playing in the streets."

In fact, the sport has even received the approval of the Taliban, not that they had much of a choice.

"It's something now that is so popular among the community, it would be foolish for any political party to sort of take a stand against it," Rogers said.

Afghanistan lost its first match of group play to Bangladesh and faces an uphill battle to reach the knockout stage.

But "they're really showing that some of these small nations can compete," Rogers said. "And you know that in Afghanistan these games are being watched all around the country by people crowding 'round television sets and, hopefully in a positive way, really bringing the community together."

This segment aired on February 21, 2015.

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