Afghanistan's amazing cricket story

Monday, May 27, 2019

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When most people think of Afghanistan they think of war and conflict.

The Afghans boast a long and proud history as a nation, yet they have rarely ever been truly united because of the many rival groups.

Even as they have fought each other, the landlocked Afghans have fiercely defended their homeland against invaders of every sort.

Afghan ferocity was such that even at the height of Empire in the 18th and 19th centuries, the British were never able to enforce their imperial stranglehold on the central Asian nation.

Over the last 40 years, the people of Afghanistan have suffered from war and civil strife as much as any other.

Depending on their location and beliefs, Afghans, over those four decades, have fought with and against the (now defunct) Soviet Union, the Americans and their western allies, and various Islamic militant groups, including the Taliban, al-Qaeda, et al.

Millions of people fled their country, many entering huge, impoverished refugee settlements on Afghanistan's eastern border with Pakistan.

If we are to believe the stories originating in Afghanistan, that is how cricket became a major sport in that country.

We are told that the Afghanistan Cricket Association was only formed in 1995, and the Taliban — which to this day controls large swathes of the 250,000-square-mile country — only gave permission to play cricket in 2000.

Yet cricket has flourished to such an extent that today Afghanistan is among 10 countries bidding for the ICC Cricket World Cup, which opens Thursday, with hosts England playing South Africa.

It would surely be asking too much to expect Afghanistan to win the World Cup. However, all opponents will view them with extreme caution.

If any warning was needed, that came on Saturday when the Afghan cricket team defeated ICC Champions Trophy winners Pakistan in a pre-World Cup warm-up.

And let's not forget that last year the Afghans defeated West Indies twice to top the qualifying group in Zimbabwe.

Afghans say their cricket revolution really started in the refugee camps in Pakistan, with young people and children following the sport on television and radio, then taking to every open space to play.

Cricket became a source of entertainment, relaxation and hope in an otherwise hopeless and miserable existence.

On returning to their homeland, the refugees took cricket with them. Now the sport has taken off in Afghanistan in a way that is virtually unprecedented.

It's estimated that 1.2 million of the approximately 36 million people in Afghanistan now play cricket.

Reports say that in Afghanistan today cricket is being used by forward-looking social workers, politicians, and community leaders to build peace and unity. That will come as no surprise to Caribbean historians who have documented the role of cricket in building national pride, confidence, and hope for the exploited and colonised.

As the cricketing world looks to the ICC Cricket World Cup later this week, there is much speculation as to who will win. Could it be Australia, England, India, Pakistan, South Africa? Even unpredictable West Indies are being pencilled in as a dark horse.

Afghanistan's cricketers, though, are already triumphant. They are now seeking to soar to even greater heights in a quest to command global respect and admiration for their struggling nation.


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