In a sporting world riddled with meddling bureaucracy, and newspapers offering up double-page spreads that further layer the papier-mâché ego of Kevin Peitersen, the achievements of the Afghanistan Cricket Team are an unlikely triumph of the human, and underdog, spirit.
Their sole, one-wicket victory at the ICC Cricket World Cup over Scotland earlier this month has become the pinnacle of the journey that has quite literally brought Afghan cricket home to a country dogged by political upheaval, invasion, and outright war.
Since 1839 the sound of willow on leather has been scarcely heard in Afghanistan, when British troops slogged it out in the capital, Kabul. Until this world cup, the acoustics of cricket for Afghans were more likely to be that of gaffa-taped tennis balls being thwacked with sticks. The sounds were not even heard in Afghanistan:
Modern warfare refuses to discriminate between the soldier and the civilian. Most recently, Amnesty International’s Human Rights Report 2014/2015 highlights the plight of 7.6 million internally displaced Syrians, while another 4 million have fled altogether as a result of the civil war still raging there. Similarly between 1979 and the present day, Afghanistan has been embroiled in conflict, through the Soviet incursion, civil war, and the US-led invasion in 2001.
This has resulted in a massive displacement of Afghans into neighbouring Pakistan, a total that still stands at 1.5 million registered refugees.
The ACB, or Afghanistan Cricket Board, was formed in 1995, in Pakistan, by the Afghan people displaced by the nine-year Soviet Invasion. More astonishingly, every player in this year’s World Cup squad was raised in these same refugee camps.
Despite their first game being played in 2004, it was not until 2011 that Afghanistan could play at home, with the construction of the Kabul National Cricket Stadium in 2011, having previously played in the UAE. As sporting clichés go, bringing it home could not be more apt.
Cricket is unsurprisingly the national sport of Afghanistan, and the passion of the fans and media puts this into perspective; Huma Nasseri writing for the Khamaa Press expresses this best:
“When we see our flag waving in over the world cup and our country is being represented in the eyes of the entire world we feel like we always lived in peace and we tend to forget what weapons, war and violence means.”
The spirit of Afghanistan’s cricketing passion is visually embodied no better than bowler Hamid Hassan, raised in a refugee camp in Peshawar, who with his bandana and war-paint is somewhat akin to a right-arm fast Rambo. (See footnote for some related US foreign policy irony).
This sentiment is too being shared by the American embassy in Kabul, who, just 10 overs into the first innings of Afghanistan’s 50-over game versus Bangladesh, pronounced them victors, despite their adopted team losing by 105 runs at the completion of the game.
If cricket can be used positively as an inspiration for political and social change in Afghanistan, then hopefully the country can emulate their team’s recovery against Scotland from 97/7 to 211/9 to usher in an era of regeneration and rebuild homes for those displaced by ceaseless conflict.
(An in-ducker of American foreign policy trivia for you here: The closing credits of Rambo III, in which model American John Rambo joins up with the Afghan Mujahedeen to blast his way through scores of Russian soldiers, feature the words “brave Mujahedeen fighters of Afghanistan”. However, post 9/11 some Mujahedeen groups assisted Al Qaeda, so it was changed to “dedicated to the gallant people of Afghanistan”.)