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Cricket mania grips Afghanistan

Many Afghans including most of the current team discovered the game while living as refugees in Pakistan in the 1980s and 90s and brought their passion back home when they returned

Jun 20, 2018
By Parvati Shashankan
 
On June 14 Afghanistan became the twelfth country to play test cricket, taking on India in Bangalore. Test matches, the game’s oldest format last for up to five days and can be played only by an elite club of nations selected by the International Cricket Council (ICC), the game's governing body. 'Test status' for Afghanistan is a  source of national pride in a country torn apart by decades of wars and conflicts.
 
The progress is all the more remarkable given that the team cannot play at home due to the unstable situation. Other sides refuse to visit Afghanistan for fear of being blown up. Afghanistan’s team play their home matches in India and their 'home ground' has recently shifted to hilly Dehradun while before that it was Greater Noida. Afghanistan’s cricket team is widely popular back home; they are mobbed on the streets and featured in endless advertisements. The team’s victory is celebrated with joyful gunfire which is common in Afghanistan but staff at an European embassy in Kabul mistook the celebration for an attack on their compound when it happened after one victory.
 
Many Afghans including most of the current team discovered the game while living as refugees in Pakistan in the 1980s and 90s and brought their passion back home when they returned. The national team first gained recognition in 2008, rising from a low division to the World Cup in 2011. More success followed, including qualification for subsequent World Cups and victories over test playing opponents. Most local cricket stars play in richer foreign leagues. like the cash-rich Indian Premier League (IPL), to improve their economic status. Rashid Khan, the 19-year-old bowling wizard, received $1.4 m in the IPL where he dazzled television viewers across the world. His example inspires many and also other youngsters in his country to enter into cricketing world.
 
The Taliban has a soft spot for cricket. They were reassured by the game’s modest attire of long trousers and long sleeves, according to a report in The Economist. As cricket’s popularity surged, the Taliban found it politically expedient to ride on the team’s coattails. Taliban avoided killing people at cricket matches, allowing the game to be played in relative peace. However, a short-lived Afghanistan women cricket team was disbanded in 2014 amid Taliban threats.
 
In a video clipping from the the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) put up on its social media handles, Ajinkya Rahane calls the Afghanistan captain Asghar Stanikazai and the rest of the team to join the Indians in the team photograph. Harsha Bhogle said from the commentator’s box that before the presentation, star-struck Afghan players were seen taking pictures with India’s cricket stars. Afghanistan may have lost the test match to India in just under two days, but they definitely won hearts and are assured of a promising future for the game that is just taking roots in their country. Before the test match with India, Afghanistan had beaten Bangladesh 3-0 in a one-day series with their spinners excelling. 
 
(The author is a freelance journalist based in Chennai. She can be reached at parvati663@gmail.com)

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