Pakistan v Afghanistan, one-off ODI, Sharjah February 11, 2012

Even Taliban lends support to Afghanistan cricketers


Such is the unifying power of cricket in Afghanistan that even the Taliban sent a message of support to the team ahead of their historic ODI against Pakistan in Sharjah on Friday. The match, which Pakistan won by seven wickets, was Afghanistan's first ODI against a Test-playing nation and the first ODI played between an Affiliate Member of the ICC and a Full Member.

A spokesman for the Taliban contacted the Afghanistan Cricket Board on the morning of the game to wish the team well and assure them they would be remembered in their prayers.

Indeed, the event appears to have unified the Afghanistan nation in unprecedented fashion. The country's president, Hamid Karzai, phoned officials at the ground several times in order to be kept up to date with the scores, while the country's minister of finance, Dr Omar Zakhilwal, estimated that "hardly anybody was not watching" the match. "Nothing has ever brought us together like this," he said.

Zakhilwal, who is also chairman of the Afghanistan Cricket Board, stressed the importance of cricket in his war-ravaged country and called on the Full Members of the ICC - the Test playing nations - to remember their "responsibility" to continue to develop the game and to reach out to a country in need.

"Cricket is not just a game for us," Zakhilwal said during the ODI. "We have had so much bad news in Afghanistan. But cricket - and this game against Pakistan - has brought good news for the people of a country who have suffered so much in the past. This is a proud day.

"There is nothing that can touch cricket in popularity or as a force for good in Afghanistan. There is absolutely nothing else that mobilises our society in the same way. Not politics, political events or reconstruction. Between 80-90% of kids will be watching this game and they play it on every street. President Karzai is watching and has phoned several times to get the latest news. Even the opposition Taliban have sent a message of support. Their spokesman said we are praying for the success of the team.

"We have received support from other countries. But it is important people realise the role that cricket can play: it can help in our development and help rebuild our society. It can be used an example to show what we can achieve if we have peace and we work together. It can help restore peace and give people a sense of purpose. For other countries to play a role in bringing something good is a responsibility; Pakistan has contributed to this purpose and I hope other countries will also contribute."

As things stand, however, Afghanistan have no more ODIs scheduled against Full Member nations. They will not be competing in the Asia Cup, an ODI event that includes India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, which Zakhilwal refers to as "disappointing." He hopes, however, that when the Full Member nations realise how important the sport has been in raising morale and providing a sense of purpose and unity in Afghanistan, they will rally to the cause and ensure the momentum is not lost.

"The top teams shy away from playing us," Zakhilwal continued. "I suppose they feel the benefits of beating us are small but the pain of losing to us would be great. We are pushing India, Australia, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka for games as only by playing them can we improve and take cricket to the next step in our country.

"The story of cricket in Afghanistan only started about ten years ago when people returned from the refugee camps in Pakistan. But there is something about the game that seems to appeal to the psyche of the Afghan people. It has created a sense of unity and happiness that has brought people together. This match is breaking the ice. But we want to be part of the big club."

Cricket is booming in Afghanistan. Not only is the international team now full time, but there are league teams in 28 of the 34 provinces and the country has an A team, an Under-19 programme and, next year, the sport will be made compulsory as part of the school curriculum.

A country starved of entertainment, success and joy is crying out for support from the ten Full Members of the ICC. It remains to be seen who is listening.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • ESPN on December 10, 2013, 6:13 GMT

    afghanistan cricket team is 10 years and pakistan had more year are in cricket. this lost is won gor afghan tigers i thing

  • Dummy4 on February 14, 2012, 20:32 GMT

    really nice......its really nice to hear that a sport is bringing peace in a war based country...providing relief..and a moment of the people of a country....

  • Dummy4 on February 14, 2012, 0:58 GMT

    I would like to appreciate the PCB with my heart. They gave a chance to Afghanistan to galvanize in the international arena which is amazing. Pakistan always helped Afghan players by allowing them to play in there domestic cricket. Everyone playing for Afghanistan has played in Pakistan and learned great skills from there. Thanks PCB once again for this nice gesture of brotherhood. by the way I am Afghani and I was supporting my own team

  • Nicholas on February 13, 2012, 12:50 GMT

    There is something special going on in Afghan cricket, and everybody (including England) needs to help. Why didn't England play Afghanistan as a 'warm-up' the other day, instead of having a glorified net against the 2nd XI ?! ...Maybe ICC could pay for Afghan players to be 'pros' in Sydney 1st Grade, or Lancashire League ?

  • Steven on February 13, 2012, 10:58 GMT

    Inspiring. They deserve to play more.

  • Muhammad Rakibul on February 13, 2012, 10:13 GMT

    Afghanistan must get Associate status asap. Apart 4m Intercontinental Cup, they can play 1st class matches against A-squad of BD, Zim, Pak or SL. Look at Namibia, Scotland & Dutch team. They r participating in South African & English Domestic circuit. But Afghans only participate in Pakistani T-20 cup. Pakistan should allow AFG to play in their domestic 1st class tournaments.

  • Dummy4 on February 13, 2012, 8:02 GMT

    Guys be positive, this is our 1st step in ODIs, Inshallah will win more matchs as they are wining T20 games against other teams, One day will hold the world Cup infornt for of the World...... very soon, keep supporting our team and they will show.

  • Andrew on February 13, 2012, 7:11 GMT

    I would say the greatest sports documentary I have ever seen is the one that detailed Afghan's rise. Seeing the joy & enthusiasm those guys took to the field brought tears to my eyes. I would like the Oz government to invite the Afghani cricketers over to play Cric Oz in an ODI every year. It's quite amazing that Afghanistan currently are ranked above Zim & Banga in T20s. I read somewhere that local games can attract 5,000 spectators - that's more than a round of Shield games in Oz!!!! They must be fast tracked to some sort of limited Test status, where they can play Zim & Bang (Ireland too).

  • Manesh on February 13, 2012, 3:57 GMT

    I hope BCCI will support Afgan cricket more like they helped BD to achieve test status. Any team visiting India must play an ODI against Afg too. They can take it as a warm up match. Just like Ireland match before English tour.

  • Hollis on February 13, 2012, 2:57 GMT

    Really pleased to read of the unity CRICKET is bringing to the people in Afghanistan. Great start and from the Caribbean, I wish their game will continue to improve.West Indies cricket with the stars of the 1980s once brought this sense of pride and unity to all in our region. I wish the WICBoard and WIPA here will take note also of what is happening in Afghanistan and put aside differences here also to explore all opportunities to bring about the cricket glory of the past , and all in the interest of Caribbean unity.Good luck Afghanistan and all other cricket developing nations.

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