By Sudipto Ganguly
(Reuters) -The International Cricket Council (ICC) has set up a working group to determine the future of the game in Afghanistan under the Taliban government, the world governing body said on Wednesday.
Afghanistan’s rise in cricket in recent years has been a fairytale story but the strife-torn nation risks international isolation following the country’s Taliban takeover in August.
Cricket Australia postponed a one-off men’s test against Afghanistan in Hobart – scheduled for later this month – if the new government in Kabul did not allow women to play the sport.
“The ICC Board is committed to continuing to support Afghanistan Cricket to develop both men’s and women’s cricket moving forward,” ICC chairman Greg Barclay said in a statement.
“We believe the most effective way for this to happen will be to support our member in its efforts to achieve this through its relationship with the new government.”
Taliban officials have said they will not repeat the harsh rule of the previous Taliban government, which banned most girls’ education and forbade women from going out in public without a male guardian.
“Cricket is a source of aspirations, elation and hope for 35 million Afghans. We’re committed to maintain effective relationships with our new government, the ICC and other cricketing nations,” Mirwais Ashraf, the Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB) chairman, said in a statement.
“We’re working to provide full assistance and assurance to the ICC Board and its working group for Afghanistan about the situation in ACB.”
ICC had taken a wait-and-see approach on whether Afghanistan can continue as a full member – allowing it to play test matches – and the issue came up during its board meeting in Dubai at the conclusion of the Twenty20 World Cup last week.
Ramiz Raja, the head of the Pakistan Cricket Board, was named as one of the members of the ICC working group.
“There’s lot of infighting in Afghanistan cricket. Two-three candidates turned up for the meeting claiming to be the legitimate representative. There was lot of confusion,” Raja told reporters.
“The ICC decided to not allow them in the meeting. But it would not impact their funding, their cricket.”
The Taliban drew global condemnation in September when it allowed boys to return to the classroom but told older girls to stay home until conditions permitted their return. While there has been no official decision on the matter, girls have since returned to school in some areas of the country.
“Cricket is fortunate to be in the position to influence positive change in Afghanistan with the national men’s team a source of great pride and unity in a country with a young population that has experienced more upheaval and change than most,” Barclay added.
“We should protect that status and continue to try to influence change through the ACB but will continue to closely monitor the situation and take any decisions accordingly.”
Among other decisions, the ICC named former India captain and current board chief Sourav Ganguly as the chairman of its Cricket Committee, replacing spin bowling great Anil Kumble whose maximum nine-year term ended this month.
(Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly in Mumbai; Additional Reporting by Gibran Peshimam; Editing by Ana Nicolaci da Costa and Shrivathsa Sridhar)