Story of Afghanistan cricket, playing their first ODI against Pakistan, tugs at the heart

Afghanistan captain Nawroz Mangal (left) and Misbah-ul-Haq with the trophy for the one-off ODI between Pakistan and Afghanistan to be played at Sharjah today. This is Afghanistan first-ever ODI against a Test-playing nation © AFP

 

By Karthik Parimal

 

There are a lot of problems in this world today. Complexities, fighting and injustice is almost everywhere. The solution for all these problems is cricket – Taj Malik, Former Afghanistan Coach in the movie ‘Out of the Ashes’.

Afghanistan’s rise thus far in cricket has been surreal. Nothing could dent this team’s passion or quest for success. The hardships, discomforts and lack of basic amenities have never been an obstacle, as this Afghan side continues to scale greater heights with every tournament they play. When Afghanistan takes the field on Thursday at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium for their first ever One-Day International (ODI) against a member nation of the International Cricket Council (ICC), they will look to compete and give Pakistan a run for its money rather than to simply be overwhelmed by the fact that they are getting to be a part of such an historic moment. Such has been the attitude ofAfghanistan.

 

Their massive leap from playing in Division 5 of the ICC World Cricket League four years ago at Jersey to playing at the highest level now is awe-inspiring. Not many gave them a chance to win that tournament at Jersey, but soon it was evident thatAfghanistan is a side that cannot be written off. The intensity with which they played throughout that entire tournament could be a lesson in determination. Afghanistan were completely outplayed by Jersey in the first half of the finals in that tournament but managed to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat by defying all odds. This triumph was just the start of many wonderful things to follow for this Afghan unit.

 

The movie ‘Out of the Ashes’ makes many appalling revelations. Firstly, the size of the Afghan National Cricket Academywhere the national-level cricketers train themselves before the start of any major tournament reminds you of an average-looking, small cricket-training camp located at a remote place in any of the subcontinent countries. It could easily pass off as an abandoned training facility too. With just four training nets and one bowling machine, they managed to chalk out international-class cricketers. To produce excellent cricketers despite scanty resources, lack of training equipment and paucity of space is praiseworthy. One can only imagine the impact Afghanistan could have made at the highest level had they been provided with sophisticated training equipments and methods.

 

It wasn’t all smooth sailing for Afghanistan cricket, though the fact remained that they were successful in most of the tournaments. They had to take tough decision like axing certain players and also sacking their successful coach Taj Malik, for reasons unknown. Perhaps the committee thought that Afghan cricket needed to move forward, and that roping in a foreign coach, like former Pakistani cricketer Kabir Khan, who had some Test match experience under his belt would augur well for the future. Luckily, this move didn’t break Afghanistan’s winning momentum as it went on to win the Division 4 of the ICC World Cricket League held at Tanzania. The side looked much more professional and improved thereafter.

 

A youngster like Gulbodin Naib too lost his place in the squad after the tournament at Jersey, but he is now back and looking better after his blistering knock of 57 against Hong Kong that helped Afghanistan clinch the Asian Cricket Council Twenty20 Cup. The fact that the Afghan team is loaded with youngsters like Gulbodin is a positive thing. If these players are groomed in the right manner, Afghanistan too can be a force to reckon with in the future.

 

The team’s success in the tournament at Argentina and their decent run in the ICC World Qualifiers held at South Africa was enough for them to rightfully become an Affiliate member of the ICC. They also took part in the ICC World Twenty20 2010 held at West Indies in which they competed against cricketing giants like India and South Africa. They won the right to play that World Cup. Although they failed to spring a surprise in that tournament, their decent batting performance against India and a commendable bowling effort against South Africa are a couple of positives they can draw confidence from. 

 

Afghanistan will be hoping to start off on the right note today to create a lasting impression on the global stage but they should not be discouraged even if the result doesn’t go in their favour. They are only going to improve as a unit from here onwards and this must be considered as a massive step towards the future.

 

This is a big day for the people of Afghanistan. One can only imagine the celebrations that will take place if the Afghan side somehow pulls off a massive upset over this strong Pakistani unit. Regardless of the outcome, this is a day that will be remembered by the people of Afghanistan. They have all the reasons to celebrate.

 

Like an Afghan poem rightly suggests,

 

“Pull up your sleeves,

Come onto the streets,

And start dancing.

Because happiness is rare in a poor man’s life.”

(If cricket is a religion and has many devotees, Karthik Parimal would be a primary worshipper. This 23 year old graduate student, pursuing his Masters in Engineering, could be an appropriate example of how the layers of what inspires, motivates and keeps one happy run deeply in our daily lives. He, unlike others, is not too disappointed about not making it big by playing for the country, but believes that he plays the sport every day with his heart by watching and writing on it)