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Australia cancel ODI series against Afghanistan over Taliban restrictions on women's and girls' rights

Afghanistan and Australia were due to play a three-match ODI series in the UAE in March; the Taliban, in control of Afghanistan since August 2021, recently announced a ban on women attending university; Naveen-ul-Haq has pulled out of the Big Bash League in response to the decision

Afghanistan were set to face Australia in Hobart (AP)
Image: A Test match between Australia and Afghanistan was cancelled in 2021 after the Taliban took power

Australia have withdrawn from their ODI series against Afghanistan in the United Arab Emirates after the Taliban imposed further restrictions on women's and girls' rights.

The three match series was due to take place in March, but Cricket Australia announced on Thursday that it had decided to pull out of the series after an "extensive consultation" with stakeholders, including the Australian government.

Australia and Afghanistan were scheduled to play three ODIs as part of the ICC's Super League, where the top eight teams automatically qualify for the 50-over World Cup, which is being held in India later this year.

"This decision follows the recent announcement by the Taliban of further restrictions on women's and girls' education and employment opportunities and their ability to access parks and gyms," Cricket Australia said in a statement.

"CA is committed to supporting growing the game for women and men around the world, including in Afghanistan, and will continue to engage with the Afghanistan Cricket Board in anticipation of improved conditions for women and girls in the country.

"We thank the Australian government for its support on this matter."

Naveen-ul-Haq, who has made seven appearances for the Afghanistan national team, criticised the decision taken by Cricket Australia and has announced he will not play in the Big Bash League.

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Writing on Twitter, the fast bowler said: "Time to say won't be participating in big bash after this until they stop these childish decisions that's how they went about the one-off test now ODI when a country is going through so much in place of being supportive you want to take the only reason of happiness from them."

The teams were meant to face each other in November 2021 in a Test match, but the fixture was postponed after the Taliban seized power in August.

Afghanistan have continued to appear at ICC events since the Taliban takeover and faced Australia during the T20 World Cup last year, losing by four runs.

The Taliban have been in power in Afghanistan since the withdrawal of western troops in the country in 2021 and the rights of women and girls have been gradually eroded.

Afghanistan remain the only full ICC member nation without a women's team and, in December, a ban on female students attending university was announced.

Australia's Mitchell Marsh, left, shakes hands with Afghanistan's Rashid Khan following the T20 World Cup cricket match between Australia and Afghanistan in Adelaide, Australia, Friday, Nov. 4, 2022. (AP Photo/James Elsby)
Image: The teams recently played each other in Adelaide during the T20 World Cup

The ruling came almost 10 months after girls were banned from high school in March, and they have also been excluded from parks and gyms.

Afghanistan's T20 captain, Rashid Khan, recently criticised the education ban, calling for it to be reversed.

In a post on Instagram, he wrote: "Today we stand in solidarity with our sisters and daughters of #Afghanistan in demanding that the decision on high school ban for girls and university ban for women be reversed. Every day of education wasted is a day wasted from the future of the country. #LetAfghanGirlsLearn"

A letter, confirmed by a spokesperson for the higher education ministry, instructed Afghan public and private universities to suspend access to female students until further notice in accordance with a cabinet decision.

The announcement prompted widespread condemnation from countries across the world amid growing concerns within the international community, which has not officially recognised the de facto administration.

ICC chief executive Geoff Allardice has said Afghanistan's lack of commitment to women's cricket is a concern for the sport's global governing body and that the matter will be discussed at its next board meeting.

"Our board has been monitoring progress since the change of regime. It is a concern that progress is not being made in Afghanistan and it's something our board will consider at its next meeting in March. As far as we are aware, there isn't activity at the moment," he said.

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