Friday, February 10, 2012

A brief history of cricket in Afghanistan

As Afghanistan is embarking on their ODI against Pakistan as I type, I thought I’d have a look at how they’ve evolved, as I’ve heard conflicting stories.

Cricket was played in Afghanistan in the 1800s, the earliest recorded match being against British troops in Kabul in 1839 during the Anglo-Afghan wars, but it didn't take off. In the 1990s it was picked up again by Afghan refugees living in Pakistan, and continued to play after their return to Afghanistan. The Afghanistan Cricket Federation was formed in 1995, but within a year the country fell into the hands of the Taliban militia, who banned all sports.

Remarkably, in 2000, cricket became the only sport allowed to be played in Afghanistan, as the Taliban overturned the ban for this one exception to all sport.

In 2001 a national team was formed and became an affiliate member of the ICC. The team was touring Pakistan when the war in Afghanistan commenced in October. Despite this, they continued playing in tournaments in Asia and the Middle East. In fact, they even defeated an MCC side featuring Mike Gatting, who was dismissed for a duck.

Obvious security risks mean their home ground is Sharjah Cricket Association Stadium in the UAE, but have also played home matches in Sri Lanka. The Afghanistan Cricket Board, however, is based in Kabul, and in April 2010 the foundation stone for Afghanistan’s first cricket stadium was laid by the chairman of the Cricket Board (also the country’s finance minister) in Jalalabad. The Sherzai Cricket Stadium was to cost US$5 million and be paid for by the government. It was still under construction in June 2011 when the photo below was taken, and I haven’t been able to find anything more recent.

Stadiums are also planned for Kabul and Kandahar, and standard cricket grounds for each of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces were due to be completed in 2012, also with no update on their status.

Despite this, there are 320 cricket clubs and six turf wickets in Afghanistan. In fact, there’s even a domestic competition, in which 22 provinces play a 25-over or 40-over format, aiming to make the game's appeal more widespread, as well as develop talent. Crowds of up to 5000 watch these matches. Not without its own politics, the tournament also aims to remove perception that cricket in Afghanistan is played by one tribe exclusively.

Maybe most brilliantly of all, in 2010 a national women’s cricket team was formed in Afghanistan. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the team was forced to withdraw from a T20 tournament in Kuwait a year later because of ongoing and strong opposition to women’s participation in sport. Baby steps, but they are steps.

Leaps and bounds for the men’s team, on the other hand, who have gender on side. Only four years ago they were in Division 5 of the ICC’s World Cricket League. In 2010 they played in Division 1. Although they failed to qualify for the 2015 World Cup in 2011's qualifying tournament, they were awarded ODI status for four years. Next month they will play in the ICC World T20 Qualifier in the UAE. They are currently ninth in the ICC T20 rankings.

The Afghan National Cricket Academy has only four training nets and one bowling machine. Imagine what they could accomplish with the resources that are available to teams like Australia or New Zealand - even Canada. Sure, the gulf between Afghanistan and the top-ranking teams on the table above is enormous (and teams like Bangladesh haven’t played enough to qualify), but their potential equally enormous.

In February 2011, the BBC premiered Out of the Ashes, a documentary about cricket in Afghanistan. The film crew had unrestricted access to the team as they travelled to qualifying tournaments around the world. They also visited refugee camps in Pakistan. A book of the same name is also available to buy here.

Grassroots cricket success in a country torn apart by war. Are you not inspired?


Images via Wikipedia, IndianExpress.com, and afgcric.

79 comments:

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utkarsh said...

Definitely inspiring stuff this on cricket. The Taliban sent an official good-luck message to their team on the day of the ODI. Goodness heavens! These supposed terrorists bowed down to our great game. This is the unifying might of our beloved game. I am proud to live for such a game!

free livescore said...

It is great post and very informative and helping post to understand about the history of Afghanistan's cricket. Usually we have a terrorism ans war image of Afghanistan but, i think we should promote and encourage them in all sports.

Joseph said...

Watched a good documentary about the Afghans on TV not so long back. It will be great to see them in the T-20 World Cup later this year.

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What a great idea! We can send our USN Seal's Cricket Team and have a spot of tea with the Taliban after the match!

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Cricket become very popular in Afghanistan along with other sports like taekwando,snooker and football.

Jimmy said...

Its good to see Afghanistan is emerging in sports as well. Their people have immense interest in sports and they are great fans of cricket. In upcoming years, Afghanistan will be a strong T20 cricket side as Bangladesh have proved them strong in shorter format.

Vilas Sonagre said...

looks great, emerging cricket in Asia. Thanks for nice pic dear.

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Afghan learned cricket from Pakistan, when they were hosted for decades.

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A very very inspiring story of the cricket evolution in country like Afghanistan where there is always no peace and always a war between different troops.It has been a slow but steady journey thus far for cricket in Afghanistan.I was really amazed by reading your article that Afghanistan do have a women cricket team as well.And also that Afghanistan are 9th in the ICC T20 ranking higher than Bngladesh and Canada and countries like Ireland where much more resources than Afghanistan are available.So it proves that the Afghani people are really very talented.

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