March 24, 2018 by vishfulthinking
Have you ever heard or seen a positive image coming out of Afghanistan? The rise of Afghanistan Cricket is that image you need to behold. This image is truly baffling, and pleasantly so!
Check out this video, Afghanistan captain, Asghar Stanikzai celebrating his team’s second consecutive world cup qualification.
Sport at the highest level usually flourishes in countries which have stable governments and societies which enjoy a secure environment sustaining a stable economy capable of creating and maintaining sporting infrastructures. Cricket, in particular, has risen and fallen in countries echoing economic and security woes stemming from unstable regimes – cricket in Zimbabwe and Pakistan are the cases in point. Cricket in the Caribbean (We still call them the West Indies – shows where cricket has been!) is another example of poor cricketing governance leading to a downward spiral of cricketing quality.
However, Afghanistan by its never-say-die spirit is the fortunate, feisty exception to the aforementioned cricketing canon.
Just let these facts sink in:
1) The Afghanistan Cricket board got upgraded from an associate level division 4 team to an international side capable of qualifying for two consecutive cricket world cups and earning a test status, all within 15 years! A feat which is even faster than the rise of Sri Lanka cricket in the 1980s – they took precisely 16 years.
2) What’s even odder is that they still don’t have an ICC standard cricket ground capable of hosting international teams (not that any international side would like to tour Afghanistan at the present moment).
3) Almost all Afghani players discovered cricket as a vehicle to find joy and identity in barren refugee camps near the Pakistan border. Despite their success, they still don’t have a robust domestic cricket structure. In fact, they wholly depend on Pakistani domestic circuit, i.e., most of their players play in Pakistan, reminiscent of how Sri Lanka climbed up the cricketing stairway by playing against South Indian domestic cricket teams during the Ranji Trophy offseason. Being a good samaritan, India offers Afghanistan quality practice grounds in Greater Noida to prepare before important tournaments.
4) Lastly, their die-hard fans in Afghanistan have never seen them play at home, and they will have to settle for watching them play on their TV sets for the foreseeable future. However, a topsy-turvy journey in the world cup qualifiers booking them a spot in the upcoming 2019 cricket world cup is nothing short of a national gift. Add to that, the forthcoming test series against the number one side in world cricket, India in June is a significant step, equivalent to a moon-landing in Afghanistan’s expedition into the cricketing universe.
Cricket in Afghanistan is swiftly becoming a unifying doctrine for Pashtuns, Hazaras, Uzbeks and Tajiks alike. This remarkable rise of Afghanistan cricket is a story of playing cricket in unbelievably testing conditions to playing international Test cricket. Quite a journey!