Kabul: Feb 11, 2012
Thousands of Afghans took a break from the war Friday, glued to their television sets to watch their cricketers take on neighbouring Pakistan in a historic One-Day International.
Newcomers Afghanistan, who have played just 18 one-day internationals against fellow low-ranking teams, are playing their first match against a top Test playing nation.
The game has a limited following in the capital Kabul but a strong fanbase in the south and east of the country, near the Pakistan border.
In the southern city of Kandahar, heartland of both Taliban insurgents and cricket lovers, shops closed as fans converged on any television screen they could find to watch the match, played in Sharjah.
"Hundreds of cricket fans have come to the Kandahar Olympic Committee office to watch this exciting game on the big screen," said Sayed Sarwar Amani, head of the martial arts federation.
Many travelled from rural areas into the city to watch the match because they have no electricity at home, he said.
Most fans were young, in their 20s, he added -- a reflection perhaps of the relative newness of the game in Afghanistan, brought to the country by Afghan refugees who learnt to play in refugee camps in Pakistan.
"We hope to have a fighting game of cricket with Pakistan, and hope to defeat them in this historic game," he told AFP as the match got underway with Afghanistan winning the toss and choosing to bat first.
A Kandahar district security chief said he and about 20 policemen were watching the match in his office.
"I have been waiting for this game for a long time. This is not a cricket game, this is the war between Afghanistan and Pakistan," said Pahlawan, who like many Afghans uses just one name.
But as the security forces watched the game, some of their enemies among the Taliban were following it too.
"I am personally a fan of cricket, I will follow this match closely," Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid told AFP ahead of the match.
Truck drivers also took a break, pulling up at the Spin Boldak transport department offices near a border crossing into Pakistan to watch the game, said Mohammad Khalil, who works for the department.
"About 12 drivers who are exporting dried fruits to Pakistan stopped their trucks on the way and they are watching the game of cricket," he said.
"They say once the game finishes they will go to Pakistan."
Friday's contest is fitting because most of the Afghan players learnt the game in Pakistan after fleeing the Soviet invasion of their country in 1979.
Afghanistan gained a notable foot up on the world cricket stage by finishing fifth in the 2011 World Cup qualifiers which earned them the right to play One-Day Internationals.