iSporter Adam Bayfield pens his thoughts on the upcoming World Cup Twenty20 and the connection of the Afghanistan cricket team. Read on as he shares his view on the 'new kids on the block'.
Such success surprised many, as historically cricket and Afghanistan have gone hand-in-hand like Mel Gibson and the Queen of England; in other words, unless I am missing out on some thrilling gossip, they haven’t at all. The popularisation of cricket beyond its homeland is well-documented – essentially, it spread around the world behind the bayonet of British imperialism. Since the British, however, were famously unable to conquer the mountainous Afghan region (though they certainly had a good go at it – you can hardly fault them for effort), the game never took root there as it did in the neighbouring sub-continent.
Even in comparatively recent times, the sport had little foothold. It was outlawed by the Taliban until the eve of the NATO invasion (whereas soccer was grudgingly permitted), and it was another year before a national side was set up. Even five years ago, its reach extended no further than a handful of knockabouts with the occupying British forces.
The most popular sport in the country remains buzkashi, which might sound like somebody sneezing violently, but is actually a brutal form of horseback polo involving calf and goat carcasses. This would appear to be somewhat more in keeping with the martial character of a battle-bruised nation, and as such the Afghans do not seem the ideal candidates to adopt the genteel, tea-and-cakes, ‘jolly good shot old chap’ game we all know and love. But adopt it they have.
Since its inauguration, the national side has ascended the rungs of the ICC’s divisional ladder at breathtaking speed, winning Division Five in Jersey in 2008, Division Four in Tanzania later that year, and Division Three in Buenos Aires the following January. The disappointment of narrowly missing out on a berth at the 2011 World Cup was more than compensated for by their sensational qualification for the World T20, where they will slot into a group alongside India and South Africa.
They earned this coveted spot at the expense of such relative cricketing luminaries as Scotland and the Netherlands, thanks largely to the heroic efforts of players like Noor Ali, Mohammad Nabi and Hameed Hasan, all of whom would be considered tremendous prospects in any country. Indeed, Afghanistan have now reached a position where they must be considered, alongside Ireland, to be the strongest Associate side.
In cricketing terms alone then, this is an extraordinary story – from literally nowhere to a global tournament in less than a decade. Throw in the fact that it has played out in front of a backdrop of unending war and insurrection and you have all the ingredients for a Hollywood movie. Perhaps even a good one. ‘The feel-good movie of the year’, the posters would scream.
The military operation’s codename, ‘Moshtarak’, translates as ‘together’. Togetherness is a commodity that has been sorely absent throughout this deeply tribal nation’s long and complicated history; more than ever since 2001. Perhaps, though, cricket can offer a glimmer of hope. In the past the sport has frequently served as an agent of unity – it forged a link between the fractured inhabitants of the post-emancipation Caribbean; it aligned the Commonwealth over apartheid-era South Africa; it continues to bind two nations together in indifference whenever New Zealand take on West Indies in a Test series. Maybe it can play its part again. All Afghans can love and idolise their cricket team.
There should, of course, be no illusions; Afghanistan are not world-beaters yet. They will probably suffer two hammerings at the World Twenty20. The ICC, meanwhile, will eventually have to face up to the uncomfortable problem of what to do about the participation of girls (the government’s position on female involvement in sport is murky, at best).
Most importantly, cricket is unlikely to be high on the list of priorities of the majority of the population, irrespective of the success of the players who represent them. But perhaps the sport can be an arrow in the quiver of those who seek to transform this country. Given time, it could even form part of the scaffolding of a new national identity.
They might not have much of a direct impact on the war-weary people of Helmand and Kandahar, but the team’s achievements in the Caribbean will nonetheless echo across this disparate nation, pointing the way, however winding, towards a more unified future.
Asif Khan said:
|< Prev||Next >|