Wellington, Mar 9: Afghanistan have exceeded expectations at their first World Cup but need to keep playing against top sides to maintain momentum and become a real force in the game, coach Andy Moles said Monday.
Afghanistan proved competitive in their tournament debut, including posting a win against Scotland, even though the minnow nation only contested their first one-day international in 2009.
Moles said his players, many of whom learned their cricket in refugee camps, were passionate about showing the world there was more to their country than war and unrest.
"These guys have got nothing really compared with Full Member nations in terms of rewards for playing the game," he told New Zealand's Radio Sport.
"But they have an enormous passion and pride to do well for their country, they talk openly about wanting to represent their country and their fans.
"It's a difficult country to live in. It's in the newspapers for all the wrong reasons and yet here we are giving everyone an opportunity to talk about Afghanistan in a totally different light."
However, Moles said passion could only take a team so far and competitive games were needed to nurture young talent in Afghanistan.
"It's vital really," the South African-based Englishman said. "They've made enormous strides over the last five or six years to get where they are but the reality is we need to develop the group underneath this group."
Afghanistan had just three matches against top-eight nations in the two years leading up to the World Cup. In contrast, New Zealand had 17 ODIs in the five months before the event opened.
' I just have to be careful'
Moles said there was a new generation of players in Kabul, where cricket's popularity has soared in recent years.
"(But) if they're going to be able to hold their own against better sides then they need to get exposure against those better players, so they don't just get exposed just at World Cup events," he said.
He said security concerns meant top teams would never play in Afghanistan but they could arrange fixtures in the United Arab Emirates as a warm-up for touring sides.
"Even A sides that are looking to get experience playing in Sharjah and the UAE, they could come to play us."
Moles said he spent several months in Kabul preparing the team for the World Cup campaign and found the work rewarding despite security issues.
"Yes it's a concern but I've certainly been made to fee very welcome by everyone in Afghanistan, in Kabul," he said.
"I just have to be careful really. I don't go out in the evenings, I don't go out at any time and I just keep all risks to a minimum. "But the passion in the country for cricket is huge and that's what really drives me."