Hailing from the Hindu Kush Mountains, the nomads have registered their nation back on the global map, this time for the right reasons. The history of the subcontinent nation – Afghanistan, is rich and is a tale of tragedy. People from all around the world visited Afghanistan for jobs, education, and well off lifestyle in a time which seems centuries away now. But due to an unfortunate turn of events, Afghanistan turned into a war torn country and was soon to be infiltrated by the Taliban group as a measure to “counter” the forces that had different desires and priorities from the nation, but it was later found out by the locals that the uninvited source of resistance were here to impose themselves on the people with their very own radical ideologies.
(Afghanistan before the war)
Many citizens scampered away from their homes to protect themselves and their children from the crossfire and quite a few succeeded. Refugee camps from neighbors - Pakistan was offered to the homeless as the war went on for days, months, and years.
All hope seemed to be lost for the locals as they had to make do with scraps that they got in camps. But, who would have thought that a ray of hope would be visible in the sense of a sport, which was a rave across the border. That sport was none other than Cricket.
(Re-energizing with a game of cricket)
At the time of modern warfare and survival, The Afghans took pleasure in watching a game of bat and ball within the hands of 9-10 year olds. The sport brought together people of all ages and made them forget about their endless worries for a brief hour or so.
Cricket was now inspiring the people of Afghanistan as it constantly kept evolving. They were now keeping one eye on all formats of cricket going around the world while idolizing their heroes on the tube, as they went on to learn and work on their own skill and technique in the process.
Afghanistan took notice of the sport and put their foot down by forming its own Cricket Federation which was founded in 1995 but was affiliated in the year 2001 - known as the Afghanistan Cricket Board. As time went by, the Afghanis showed resistance to the Taliban group – to a point which toppled majority of the infiltrators. Hence, liberating them to take cricket to the very next level.
It was in the year 2010, when the Afghanistan Cricket team played their first major international tournament in the World T20, to which the masses took notice.
In a couple of years time Afghanistan was given the identity of an associate nation as they ranked at number 11 in the ICC rankings and were making a heavy impact in the cricketing world.
The Afghani cricketers were single handedly carrying a nation and playing the gentleman’s game with their hearts on their sleeves.
The players showed fire on the field as they had been through a lot in the entirety of their lives. Witnessing death, watching countrymen fight over morsel of food and a few drops of water, while shivering under the cold night sky due to shortage of clothes had hardened their skins and their wills. This was rightfully unraveled in front of every viewer’s eyes when they took on the cricket field.
The nomads were out there to play a game of cricket which they loved more than life and death itself. A county in disarray needed a source of inspiration through an individual or a group of individuals for that matter, which they did get from their very own team wearing red and blue.
The players were permitted to practice and play in Sharjah for a short while before the government of India made a bold and admirable decision of making Greater Noida as their new “home ground,” later shifting it to Dehradun. Their move to India with the best of facilities paid huge dividends for the Afghans as they turned into fan favorites and were now even being considered for the biggest league in the world – The Indian Premiere League. Mohammed Nabi, Mujeeb Ur Rehman and the 19 year old poster boy of Afghanistan - Rashid Khan, who is the quickest bowler in world cricket to take a hundred wickets since debut in the ODI format, were now all now hot properties of the prestigious league.
(Boy wonder Rashid Khan showcasing his magic in the IPL)
Being sold for huge lumps of money while being allotted to their respective franchises to play right beside greats was something even the players wouldn’t have imagined in their wildest dreams as they were mere scavengers whose common purpose was to survive in a barren land not so long ago.
They were now living the dream and how! The spin trio of Mujeeb, Nabi, and Rashid Khan were their captain’s go to men when in need of wickets for Punjab while the latter were for Hyderabad. The players were now being cheered in jam packed 65000 seater stadiums and that motivated them as well as their people back home to take this as an incentive to replicate the new heroes hailing from Afghanistan.
In a span of less than 10 years Afghanistan cricket moved leaps and bounds beyond every practical cricket lover’s mind and were now turning out to be team who packed a punch game after game. From beating Ireland in the UAE, to defeating the West Indies team in the World T20 of 2016 – who later turned out to be the champions of that year. Challenging a strong Bangladesh team in a three match T20 series in India and whitewashing them with utmost ease, to the current date Asia Cup heroics where the Afghans beat five time Asia Cup holders – Sri Lanka by 91 runs to knock them out of the tournament, followed by Bangladesh yet again in the group stages.
Back to back fifties by Shahidi against Pakistan and Bangladesh in the Super 4 round made the two games a tight affair as it concluded in the final over, but at the expense of a loss. It was soon to be followed by a phenomenal hundred by the wicket keeper batsman - Shazad against the World Number 2 – India. Afghanistan saved the best piece of entertainment for the last, since the match ended in an exhilarating tie. Their inexperience of at least 50 games is what prevented them to cross the line in pressure situations and make it to the final.
(Shahzad scores a memorable ton in front of his idol - MS Dhoni)
The newbies of cricket have been a positive source of energy and inspiration, which has not only made their own nation believe, but have also inclined the rest of the world to give a second chance to themselves by using courage, vigour and integrity as the required tools for excellence in each individual's personal endeavour.
A nation which was unable to get on its feet and provide the required facilities to its player – somehow managed to present cricket’s finest ever products. Speaking from Afghanistan’s perspective - it’s a message to the world that if we look close enough, the world might be able to discover some fine doctors, professors, industrialists who could do wonders for their nation – just like the cricketers did, courtesy their baby steps in a sport which lead to huge shockwaves in such short notice.
About the Author
Comes from the United Arab Emirates, is a sports junkie and a journalist, who has been following cricket as well as football since childhood. Played cricket in academies, school, and university levels. A fanatic follower of one of Europe's biggest ever football clubs - Manchester United.