BUENOS AIRES: Afghanistan's cricketers, who just five years ago were using crashed military helicopters as dressing rooms, hope to edge closer to the international elite here this week.

After two successive promotions, Afghanistan take part in the six-nation ICC World Cricket League Division Three tournament in Argentina from Saturday with a place in the top two ensuring a spot in April's 2011 World Cup qualifier.

The Asian Cricket Council (ACC), having helped guide the team's development from a rag-tag outfit who learnt the game as refugees living in Pakistan, are confident that there is no reason why the Afghans can't continue their rise.

"For the ACC, it has been a tremendous journey of taking a very talented team from the clutches of war and destruction to new heights of playing international cricket," said ACC development officer Mohammad Iqbal Sikander.

Sikander outlined the problems that Afghanistan, who will tackle Argentina, Hong Kong, Papua New Guinea, Uganda and the Cayman Islands here, have faced.

"In 2003-04, the facilities in Afghanistan were non-existent, they were playing on open areas by the side of the hills without even the basic cricket requirement - that is, the pitch," he said.
On one of the grounds they had a damaged helicopter and a plane that were being used as two dressing rooms."

There is plenty at stake here from January 24-31. The top two sides will play in the 12-nation World Cup Qualifier in April in South Africa.

The top four sides there will qualify for the 2011 showpiece, while the top six teams will receive ODI status for the next four years.

Afghanistan fast bowler Hamid Hassan believes his team can complete what once looked distinctly like an impossible dream.

"Two or three years before I started playing for the national team I didn't even play cricket," said Hamid.

"I want to play international cricket so people can see the Afghan team. I'd like to play against England at Lord's and against Australia in Melbourne."

Uganda and Argentina are expected to be among the main contenders over the next week here.

Uganda are coached by South African-born Ebrahim Mohamed while Hamish Barton, a former first-class cricketer in New Zealand, has an important player-coach role for Argentina.
shim - Afghanistan promoted to play ICC World Cricket Lea