CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Mohammad Nabi has come a long way from the refugee camps of central Asia where he, along with other children displaced by war, whiled away the hours playing cricket.
The 30-year-old captain of Afghanistan's national cricket team knows he will carry the expectations of supporters in his war-torn homeland on Wednesday when he leads his lineup into its first World Cup match in the 50-over format.
The Afghan team goes into the match as underdogs against Bangladesh, which has only been playing among the elite cricket nations for 15 years.
Just getting to compete on the manicured grass of Manuka Oval in the Australian capital Canberra is an achievement against the odds for Nabi's team. It's half a world away from the refugee camp where the all-rounder was born in the strife-prone Pakistani city of Peshawar near the Afghan border during the Soviet war with Afghanistan.
Life in the refugee camp was tough, Nabi recalled Tuesday, adding: "You play cricket a lot in refugee camps."
"I'm very happy to represent Afghanistan in the World Cup," he said. "Hopefully I'll enjoy the whole tournament as captain."
Afghanistan's British-born coach Andy Moles said while the squad was considered a long-shot to beat the biggest teams in cricket, the Afghan players expected to do well.
"First of all, what impressed me about them was their genuine all-around passion for the game and their genuine desire to win games of cricket," said Moles, who became head coach in September. "Whoever they play against, they go on the field and they genuinely believe they can win a game of cricket."
Nabi was not the only player to overcome hardships to find his place in the team.
"It' been well documented the hardships that the players and the general public have at home all over Afghanistan," Moles said. Cricket "is a unifying sport, it's a well-received sport among the population in Afghanistan and the players know that through good performances it will be a massive up-liftment in just the general wellbeing of the country."
The importance of the Afghan players representing their country at a major international event is appreciated by many cricket fans.
Supporters mobbed the team during an official welcome in downtown Canberra at the weekend. Team members signed cricket bats, balls and World Cup tickets for grateful fans.
Mushin Dadarkara lined up to meet the team with his eight-year-old son Baha.
"I am an Indian supporter, but I love (the) Afghanistan team as well," Dadarkara told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio. "In spite of the problems in their country, they have come up (a) long way and they have done very well in cricket."
Bangladesh captain Masrafe Mortaza said his team respected the Afghans as opponents, particularly after losing a low-scoring match to Afghanistan at the Asian Cup last March.
We "have taken them very seriously because we respect them not (as) beginners, we respect them all the country," said Mortaza, who knows what it's like to be part of a team trying to prove itself in the international arena. He made his one-day international debut in 2001 — a year after Bangladesh joined the elite test-playing nations — and has played 11 World Cup matches among his 144 one-day international matches,
Moles was happy that the pressure was on Bangladesh as the favorites for the match on Wednesday.
"We are very much in our infancy," Moles said. "But if we play well, do the right things and stay calm, we are capable of playing some serious cricket."