War-torn buildings, bomb craters filled fields and a nation looking to put the Taliban era behind it – you mention these things and immediately Afghanistan comes to mind. But if one mentions cricket and Afghanistan together, the mind finds it hard to accept the association between the two.
However, cricket is very much alive and positive in Afghanistan, where the sport was brought in from mostly neighbouring Pakistan and is now becoming a passion among the young Afghans.
And it is not just a bunch of enthusiasts with little real skill. Allah Dad Noori’s brother (now in Afghanistan’s national squad) was selected for Pakistan Under-17 before being excluded on nationality grounds. Noori himself – as a fast bowler – would be playing first-class cricket if he lived elsewhere.
There are many others with real talent. What they need is proper coaching and money to prepare wickets, to buy equipment and for the players’ travel expenses, etc.
There are young boys who can recite the statistics of leading New Zealand cricketers. They are ambitious and have no trouble telling you they would beat Bangladesh if they had the chance.
A provincial tournament featuring as may as 27 teams was held recently in the capital city of Kabul. People from far and wide came to see the players in action.
Captain of the Afghanistan cricket team (left) receives trophy from commander of International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) at the end of three-match series played in Kabul
The pitch was made from a combination of straw and mud, watered, swept and rolled over many days.
The outfield was undulating and was full of the sort of impediments that most domestic cricketers would refuse to play on. Bomb craters also festooned the outfield.
But their thirst for the game and the great knowledge of cricket all over the world is extraordinary and although the sport in Afghanistan does not have the mass following that it does in India and Pakistan, it would not take much to galvanise the population.
The Afghan players’ ambition is to make cricket the No. 1 sport in the country, and this is only achievable with the right strategic help.