For the first time ever, Afghanistan's cricketers will be part of the Indian Premier League (IPL) auction. And if they make it to the tenth edition of the richest T20 league it will be a huge victory for the sport of cricket.
Firstly, because of the performances of the players and the side itself.
Their rise has been rapid - and is reflected in their Twenty20 world ranking. They're 9th, ahead of full members Zimbabwe and Bangladesh.
They've won the Intercontinental Cup, participated in the 2012 World T20 and the 2015 ODI World Cup (after winning nine out of 14 matches at the World Cricket League Championship). Then they played in the 2014 and 2016 World T20. They didn't make it to the knockout stages of these tournaments, but they're now a permanent fixture. They have some big scalps - West Indies, Scotland and even Ireland have fallen to a side which trains on practice pitches donated by charity organisations at home, outside the country in Sharjah and sometimes even in Noida.
Two more full series against West Indies and Ireland are coming up. The players' progression points to one thing - they're not afraid of the big boys. So why shouldn't their players be able to take on Dale Steyn or Ashish Nehra or R Ashwin? They've earned it.
Check out the records of some of their players:
- Mohamad Asghar Stanikzai, the skipper of the national team, has 806 T20I runs in 39 matches
- Mohammad Nabi has 56 wickets at an average of 23.30
- Mohammad Shahzad has more than 1000 T20I runs
- Rashid Khan's record of 31 wickets at an average of 16.34 is very impressive
- Dawlat Zadran has 39 wickets at an average of 23.58
Those are the tangibles - but here's the intangible: Afghanistan's players have shown a fearlessness at the top level. In fact, they enjoy taking on the big players and approach the sport with nothing to lose. And that's a fine attitude to have in the IPL, where playing with expression and fearlessness matters the most.
As for cricket, this is big news - this is a sport that isn't known for being inclusive - the ICC's recent decision to reduce the World Cup to 10 teams is hardly the best move to globalise a sport. If the Afghans do well in the IPL, it sends a message to the decision-makers that if these players can do well in a league with cricket's biggest stars, that they should push harder to promote the sport in new nations.
Afghanistan's ambassador to India, Shaida Mohammad Abdali, says this will be a big opportunity to boost Afghan cricket and is hoping that some of the players will be picked by the franchises.
There is still a good chance that they may not be picked by teams in the IPL. But while that won't be good news for the Afghans, they've shown they're not easily kept down by failure.
Mohammad Shehzad had said during the World T20, this team just wants to play cricket. If they get picked for the IPL and shine, there will be no better example of the beauty of the sport.
Feature image source: AFP