The Taliban Cricket Club June 16, 2012

A different kind of Afghan story

Dread, romance and cricket come together in this novel set in the time of the Taliban

The Afghanistan cricket team - yippee, we will be seeing them again in the World T20 in Sri Lanka - brings to a somewhat tired global community the fresh, bracing air of the mountains. The names Stanikzai, Mangal, Zadran, Hotak represent an unfamiliar part of the cricket world. Every man has a careering life story - taking to the game in refugee camps, learning from tolerant mates, teachers, coaches.

The Taliban Cricket Club is not that kind of an Afghan cricket story. Its dominant mood is dread and gloom - which press down on the reader through to its final chapter. Its characters are trapped in a Kabul living under the heavy fist of the Taliban, from 1996 to 2000.

Well before its story begins, two factors draw the reader into the book. The title, of course: cricket was the only sport approved of by the Taliban. In the book, Zorak Wahidi, the minister for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (aka Mr Bad Guy) explains that it occupies wads of time and "is modest in its clothing". The real Taliban's religious police did actually operate under the title of the Ministry for the Propogation of Virtue and the Suppression of Vice. Afghanistan applied for ICC membership in 2000, which was granted in 2001, after the Talibs had been driven out of Kabul.

The second lure of the book has to be its beautiful cover photograph, of two women in the famous billowing blue "shuttlecock" burqas striding away from the camera, with them a girl of no more than ten, head uncovered, glancing over her shoulder. Taliban CC's story is driven by its female protagonist Rukhsana, enduring a regime that believes women belong to "the home and the grave".

Rukhsana learnt to play cricket when living in Delhi. If she can teach her brothers and cousins the rudiments of the game in less than a month, they will have tickets to freedom: the team that wins Afghanistan's first cricket competition will go to Pakistan with the Taliban's blessings. A proposal of marriage from fifty-something Wahidi and Rukhsana knows she will have to make a run for it herself. In order to step outside and teach cricket, she disguises herself with a false beard (and some useful protective gear).

Timeri Murari, a Chennai-based writer, spent some time in Kabul talking to those who lived under the Taliban, and through Rukhsana he details the wounded, up-ended lives of women and men. In an atmosphere of fear, cricket becomes a bastion of utter fairness, a standpoint for democracy and a romantic idyll.

The threat of Wahidi and his cronies, particularly his menacing brother Droon, is on every page. Rukhsana's lingering love interest from her years in Delhi makes a sudden, mawkish appearance to play in the life-or-death cricket match. (No more spoilers here.)

Much of the cricket is all Victorian nobility, with an ICC observer called Markwick turning up in his MCC hat and tie. When Droon threatens to pulp Rukhsana's brother, Markwick acts in character. "We're playing cricket," he said, in the stern voice of a schoolmaster…" we are told. "We must start the game. It's half-past two."

The Taliban Cricket Club is more about the Taliban than cricket. Its main characters are not layered, and the language can turn clunky, with "searing love" and "simple meals", but Talib-ruled Kabul is sketched in careful and terrifying detail and the story moves along quickly. You find yourself willing the Taliban CC on to escape en masse. Besides, it will make a hell of a movie.

The Taliban Cricket Club
by Timeri N Murari
Aleph Book Company
pp336, Rs 595

Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on June 17, 2012, 18:42 GMT

    Thank you all for supporting and your nice comments regarding our national tigers. We believe that we can promote and make peace thru sports and social actions. While our National team played in T20 Qualifying Cup, it was supported by both sides Government and oppositions (Taliban). I hope one day we could push and make the Taliban and Gov't by social action (Sports) to put down their weapons and make peace in my war-torn country after three decades of conflict generation.

  • Dummy4 on June 17, 2012, 17:16 GMT

    Being neighbours Pakistan supported Afghan cricket heavily my local academy coach used to coach the Afghan side in Peshawar. No doubt they emerged so quickly and well.

  • Kishor on June 17, 2012, 12:56 GMT

    They got very good bowlers who can win matches at international level, but unfortunately they have not got decent batsmen.

  • Dummy4 on June 17, 2012, 8:50 GMT

    I am a huge fan of Afghan Cricket Team, I believe they are the most inspiring cricketers in Cricket world, in a very short period of time they have reach a respectable position. God Bless Afghans,,,,

  • Dummy4 on June 16, 2012, 11:57 GMT

    Cricket become very popular in my country along with other sports like taekwando,snooker and football.Our people love sports and hope we win some medals in Olympic and play well in t20 world 2nd fav team is pak and our people support indian and pak team.hope to see our player in ipl and the rest t 20 tournaments.....

  • Bobby on June 16, 2012, 11:05 GMT

    Afghanistan cricket team is w worthy team in T20 WC. Difference between Afghanistan and teams like B'desh is that Bangalis were pushed bit too quickly to test status. This was all due to a huge support from PCB that was fairly powerful in those days. B'desh is an ordinary team that has failed to deliver. Afganistan on other hand plays a Pakistani brand of cricket which is careless, free spirit batting, and some wild fast bowlers! Afghnistan also is blessed with a genetic pool of atheletes that B'desh and India do not posess...There is an obvious difference in genetic make up of Afgani and Bangali players! Players from Pakistan's Northern areas have always been wonderful atheletes in cricket, hockey and squash. Afghanistan will show the world that they are a force to reckon with. B'desh should be stripped off from test status and Afghanistan should play test cricket. I hope Afghanistan cricket board does not do what BCB is doing on tunes of BCCI!

  • Dummy4 on June 16, 2012, 9:45 GMT

    Is this book available in Kabul now?

  • Dummy4 on June 16, 2012, 8:57 GMT

    Dread, romance and cricket come together in this novel... What an amazing character Ruksana is.... Hope for peace in the war-ravaged country of Afghanistan.....

  • Aamir on June 16, 2012, 8:34 GMT

    As a Pak fan, I knew that Afghan's used to support Pakistan in cricket. Now, it's our turn to cheer to Afghanistan in the T20 WC. Good luck our brothers!

  • Nadeem on June 16, 2012, 5:38 GMT

    I just hope for the peace in Afghanistan.

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