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Cricket Bowls Over Afghans

Unexpected success of youth team in regional tournament likely to bolster sport’s popularity.
By Mohammad Jawad

A cricket craze seems poised to sweep the country following the surprisingly strong showing by a team of young Afghans at a recent international competition. Their success came despite the fact that they don’t even have enough shoes for all the players.


The team - made up of youths between 13- and 15-years old - finished second out of 14 teams in their age bracket at the Asian Cricket Council Cup finals held in April in Abu Dhabi, UAE. Afghanistan's Hashmatullah Rabani was named the tournament's best player and Sanauallah Mohib was honoured as best bowler.


While the game has been played here since at least 1992, it has only been in the last four years, since the fall of the Taleban regime, that it has been able to flower.


Things started off badly for the team when they arrived late for the competition due to delays in getting their visas. Forced to play their first match after only three hours of sleep, they lost to a team from Nepal.


But they then went on to defeat teams from Qatar, Hong Kong and Malaysia before once again losing to Nepal in the final.


The team’s success appears to have caught many of their competitors by surprise.


"We didn't have uniforms," said Taj Malook Aalem, the team's trainer and general secretary of the national cricket federation. "Some of them had the logo of the federation and some didn't.


"Our team had seven pair of sports shoes that the players wore in turns during the competition. The other teams were laughing at us, saying we didn't have a chance."


But the laughing stopped as Mohib stymied opposing batsmen and Rabani scored a total of 270 runs during the competition.


"I can hardly express how I feel," said Rabani afterward. "But I can just say I am very happy."


Like many other Afghans, Rabani said he first learned to play the sport while living in Pakistan. Now that he’s returned to his homeland, he’s happy to see it flourish.


Aalem said the Asian Cricket Federation, which officially recognised the Afghanistan Cricket Federation in 2003, has provided substantial support, including 30,000 US dollars in cash and about 5,000 dollars worth of equipment. The British Embassy in Kabul has also given 6,000 dollars worth of equipment.


The Asian Cricket Federation provided the Afghan players with meal money during the tournament.


While the International Cricket Council recently counted only 29 teams throughout the country, Aalem said the national federation is now helping support about 450.


The popularity of the sport first began to surge when refugees started to return from Pakistan, where cricket is extremely popular. Most Afghan teams still play on soccer pitches or in parks. But plans are being made to build a proper cricket stadium near Sharak-e-Sabz, east of Kabul, once officials come up with the 70,000 dollars necessary for construction.


The unexpected Abu Dhabi success led to a run on bats, balls and wickets at the Feroshgah-e-Afghan Sport shop, owned by Safeeullah Alozai.


"In comparison to last year, sales went up by 80 per cent after we won that second place," he told IWPR.


Mohammad Jawad Sharifzadah is an IWPR staff reporter in Kabul.


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