MS Dhoni

MS Dhoni is a hit amongst Afghanistan’s 10-member cycling contingent © IANS

Greater Noida: Mar 14, 2013

India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni is not only popular with the Afghanistan cricket team, the war raveged country’s 10-member cycling contingent also admires the swaggering cricketer and follows him on television back home.

“Dhoni is my favourite cricketer. I like watching him play. Cricket is slowly gaining popularity in our country. But, football remains our number one of sport,” said Salma Kakar, a member of the Afghanistan team who is here to compete in the Asian Cycling Championship.

Competing in the Asian Cycling Championship after a decade long gap, the Afghanistan team is elated to rub shoulders against the best in the continent.

On their first major international competition, the 10-cyclist contingent, including four women, said they have come off a grueling three-month long training at the Jalalabad city.

“We have practiced hard for this competition. It was very cold in Kabul and the vehicular traffic makes it difficult for us to practice there. So we had organised a camp in Jalalabad,” said the president of Afghan Cycling Federation, Abdul Sadiq Sadiqi.

“We have come here for exposure and we know that our cyclists are not in medal contention. But, we have few very good riders whom we want to test against the best in Asia,” he said.

 The riders, who are using cycles given to them by the International cycling body (UCI), were in despair after their country’s best rider finished last in the men’s elite time trial competition.

“He did not have an aerodynamic helmet like other riders. Also our cycle did not have an elbow rest. These things matter in time trial races. I could not see our best rider losing and had tears rolling down my eyes,” Farzana Assedi said.

“He is our best cyclist. He was second in Pakistan Tour de France last year. I am sure he is not such a bad rider that he would finish last,” she said.

Amongst the contingent is a 17-year-old rider Ashraf Gani, who acts as the translator for the group. The Kabul-based boy works as a part-time language translator with the American embassy there as he is fluent in Hindi and speaks fairly good English.

“I have to earn as things are not well in my family. I learnt Hindi and Urdu while living in Lahore. I have also worked in a hotel where I got to learn English,” the diminutive cyclist said.

The riders are happy that cycling is also catching up with youngster back home and say soon they will prove their mettle in big competitions.

“People encourage us to take cycling and back us, saying you will be the future of Afghanistan. We might be using this platform (Asian Championship) for exposure but we will definitely become more competitive,” Gani added.