Raees Ahmadzai, former national captain, still a national player and for long the spokesman of Afghan cricket, has set up a Non-Governmental Organization with the specific purpose of finding more cricketers in his homeland.

The NGO is called the Afghan Youth Cricket Support Organization (AYCSO) and was officially registered in Kabul by Mr. Ahmadzai this June. “I wanted to find the natural talent that we have in Afghanistan and bring them to cricket,” he says, speaking from Kabul. “Many embassies are wanting to help the NGO and also UNICEF is wanting us to work with them for polio prevention as it is a big problem in Kandahar and Khost.” Children have to be vaccinated several times before they are actually immune.

The first AYCSO initiative was a two-day training camp funded by UNICEF in Kabul at the start of September. Along with Raees Ahmadzai, national captain Nowroz Mangal and fast bowler Dawlat Ahmadzai (no relation) took 50 boys through their paces. “There was an amazing response. Suddenly the heroes the boys had only heard about on radio or seen on TV were in front of them giving coaching,” says Raees.

Nowroz Mangal works with the batters

Catherine Mbengue, the UNICEF representative in Afghanistan, told Pajhwok Afghan News the camp was aimed at making the children familiar with the game and for creating peace in Afghanistan. When asked why the cricket was chosen as a vehicle for UNICEF in Afghanistan, Ms. Mbengue said cricket was a game of peace and children loved it from the core of their hearts.

The boys at the camp were in the U-15 to U-18 group as this is the age which Raees feels his coaching can have the best impact. “When I saw the talent that these young players have, especially some left arm spinners, it made me realize how bright Afghanistan's cricket future is. The children were learning so quickly. I fear that if more talent is found, I will soon be out of a position in the national team. The natural talent is there but they need polish and exercise and to know how to react to the opposition."

Dawlat Ahmadzai works with the bowlers

One of the left-arm spinners spotted by Raees, Hashmat Shahidi, played in the final of the Kabul Twenty20 tournament following the conclusion of the camp “and took three wickets at a crucial time. I think he can definitely play in the U-16 ACC Cup next year.”

Not only the youngsters benefited, the players did too. “It is a dream of all of us to do something for Afghanistan when we leave cricket. Nowroz and Dawlat can become very good coaches one day and for them this was a start on that journey, for me also,” said the proud organiser.

Raees Ahmadzai with Hashmat Shahidi

More AYCSO camps are planned outside Kabul in the months ahead, national training and playing permitting. Afghanistan may be playing their next ODIs in Dubai against Ireland early next year around the time of the ICC World Twenty20 Qualifier. There are reports also that Sri Lanka may invite Afghanistan to play some ODIs in the near future. In November Afghanistan play in the ACC Twenty20 Cup in the UAE.

All pictures by Leslie Knott, producer of ‘Out of the Ashes’

Raees Ahmadzai: Leading Afghan Cricket
Afghanistan Country Profile

Filed Sep 15th, 2009