Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Go Afghan Cricket!

On a positive note.  Not all is gloom and doom in Afghanistan.  Most people are not following this - I doubt most people in the world are even aware of it.  The Afghan national cricket team has been rocking the cricket world for the past couple of years.  This, people, is the quintessential underdog story.  Picture it: Afghan kids, fleeing war in their homeland, sentenced to a life of poverty in the refugee camps of Pakistan, make do with the little they have, turning dusty fields into pitches, converting discarded sticks into bats, wrapping refuse with tape to make balls and start playing cricket.  From those meagre beginnings emerges what is now Afghanistan's pride and joy. 

Right now, the Afghan national cricket team is competing in the 2011 World Cup qualifying tournament in South Africa.  Let's put that in perspective: they are competing against teams like Canada, Ireland and Scotland.  Not bad for a bunch of former refugees.  I've been following their progress for years, not because I'm a cricket fan (can't stand the game), but because my Afghan fixer for the past 7 years is their former manager and current head of marketing.  I've had to suffer through long nights of cricket on the television in places like Kandahar and Kabul.  I've been subjected to long monologues about intricacies of the game, which doesn't make me an expert but certainly more than the ignoramus I'd rather prefer to be.

I've also been privy to some of the politics that go on behind the scenes in Afghan sport.  Nothing in that divided nation is immune to politics.  Cricket was initially scorned by many Afghans as a Pakistani import.  It received little recognition even a short 3 or 4 years ago, just when the national team was starting to make waves on the international stage.  But as success piled onto success, people started to take notice.  Here was something Afghans could feel good about in a nation saddled by all things bad.  

Now the pendulum has swung in the opposite direction.  Everyone wants a piece of the team (in part, no doubt, because of the money that's begun flowing into the national cricket program).  Some Persian government leaders have begun moaning that the team unfairly favours Pashtuns, adding another element to the ethnic divide that remains Afghanistan's core issue.  Team representatives counter that no Persians have shown enough talent to make the cut.  "We've had Persians try out," my fixer told me recently, "but they just don't have the skills yet."  That's natural: Afghan cricket developed in Pakistan's refugee camps.  The refugees there were primarily Pashtuns (the majority of Persian refugees were in Iran, where cricket is non-existent).  It will take time develop cricket nationwide.

The process has already begun.  The Afghan Cricket Council is currently professionalizing its academy in Kabul.  Development programs exist throughout the country, including the Persian-dominated north and west.  My great hope is that cricket can be a force for good in the country, healing the festering wounds that decades of war have inflicted on Afghanistan's ethnic groups.  Given time and space to grow, it could be a nexus around which all Afghans can unite, like hockey in Canada or football in Europe. 

So let's all keep our fingers crossed for the Afghan boys in South Africa.   Tomorrow they play a crucial round robin match against their long-time foes the UAE.  A win would guarantee them a spot in the Super 8 round, and bring them one step closer to their World Cup dream.


(to follow the tournament, visit the ICC official website; also check out the documentary a British journalist, Tim Albone is currently shooting about the teams road the World Cup)


0 Responses to "Go Afghan Cricket!"

Post a Comment


Copyright 2009 All Rights Reserved ARKmedia.ca | Blogger template by Brian Gardner converted & enhanced by eBlog Templates