Afghanistan stunned Bangladesh in the Asia Cup 2014. They have also qualified for the ICC World Cup 2015 © AFP
By Bharath Ramaraj
In the 19th century, the British introduced what seemed like an alien game made up of willow and leather to Afghanistan. The game from its humble beginnings has stood the test of the time and now Afghanistan is on the verge of being recognised for its surge towards dizzying heights in international cricket. They were justifiably nominated by the esteemed Laureus World Sports Awards’ panel for ‘Breakthrough of the Year’ for 2013.
In fact, it has been a long and arduous journey for those Afghanistan cricketers. They have had to wade through the rough terrains of a country invariably under incessant threat of wars and the terrible Taliban regime. However, the Afghans have shown incontrovertible self-belief to wash away every challenge with aplomb.
In an interview to CricketCountry, Afghanistan’s coach Kabir Khan talked about how the tough upbringing has made the team resilient, “I would say that these are things that are inbuilt or they are born with. The thing is that the generation that is playing with me has been through a lot of troubles and they became tough. Most of them were in refugee camps in Pakistan or other countries. And, you know what life there is in a refugee camp! It is very difficult. You have to fight for food or even water sometimes. All those difficulties have made them very tough. That is something they cannot forget, as they have done it so many times that it makes them very tough and resilient. That is the main reason I would say.
“They wanted to prove to the world that they are good enough. They could do anything. You just tell them, ‘Run 20 laps of the ground.’ Stupid thing, and they’ll do it if they think whatever the coach is saying is good for them and would make them better cricketers. They took it as a challenge. Some of them are still playing and you ask them and they will always remember their old days. They are not satisfied [with what they have done] and they are still hungry. Most of the players say, “Sir, we have qualified for the World T20 twice. We have enjoyed it and the nation has enjoyed it. But, that’s it! We are now regularly qualifying for World Cups, now it is time to win games.” That is the sort of mentality they have got. Which is very good to see as a coach. These are those players who want to go and perform there.”
Curiously enough, if we look back at Afghanistan’s history, Taliban have played a part in helping cricket to branch out in the country. Even though, the cruel regime’s rule led to mass bloodshed and destruction that still haunts people in Afghanistan, it was Taliban, who gave permission for the sport to be played in the country, as they played in clothing that didn’t offend the regime.
The sheer passion for the game was also rekindled by those Afghans who had crossed the border during the Soviet Union war to live in refugee camps in a cricket-mad country like Pakistan and were charmed by the British game. Those few who lapped up the sport brought it to Afghanistan.
Taj Malook, former national coach and father figure of the Afghanistan national team talked about the refugee camps playing a part in the growth of the sport. “We were living in Kacha Kara camp. I was running an Afghan team playing alongside with my three brothers, we were crazy fans of cricket, following every international match,” he said as reported by BBC Asia.
“I was thinking that if we keep on playing cricket, we will have a national team representing our own country.”
Nowadays, the entire country has been smitten over by the game. Recently, when Afghanistan qualified for ICC World Cup 2015, thousands of people came out on the streets to rejoice the landmark achievement with unfettered fever. In streets and parks, kids play cricket with unbridled enthusiasm.
It has to be said that kids also need twinkling stars, who have shone brightly by leaving an indelible mark at the international stage to follow in their footsteps. The Afghanistan national team is made up of players who aren’t just gifted with heavy dollops of skill, but also have that never say die spirit to come out as a true winner.
The likes of Mohammad Nabi, Shapoor Zadran, Asghar Stanikzai, Hamid Hassan, Mohammad Shahzad, Narwooz Mangal and company are stars in their own right. Just recently, the Afghanistan setup took a gargantuan leap in the international circuit by upsetting the applecart and defeating Bangladesh in Asia Cup 2014.
It is heart-warming to see that despite the odds being stacked against them, the Afghanistan team, with an undying love for the game and an unstinting service to the cause, have pushed the envelope of possibility with their heroic deeds on a cricket field. The sport can even turn out to be a harbinger of peace and harmony in the country. In short, the Laureus World Sports Awards nomination is a reflection of the blood, sweat, toil and tears of the people from a war torn country.
(Bharath Ramaraj, an MBA in marketing, eats, drinks and sleeps cricket. He has played at school and college-level, and now channelises his passion for the game by writing about it)