As the Taliban begins to write a new story for Afghanistan and its people, there have been obvious questions about the future of Afghanistan’s cricket. As the world builds up to the Twenty-Twenty World Cup in October, this may very well be the end of cricket in Afghanistan.
On September 8th, Cricket Australia released a statement saying it would cancel the one-off test against Afghanistan if the Taliban doesn’t change its stance on women’s cricket.
“If recent media reports that women’s cricket will not be supported in Afghanistan are substantiated, Cricket Australia would have no alternative but to not host Afghanistan for the proposed Test Match due to be played in Hobart. “
The Taliban, who came back to power in Afghanistan after 20 years, has banned all sports except cricket. Men’s cricket. They have categorically denied the possibility of women’s cricket in Afghanistan for reasons we all know.
Since then, the members of the women’s team are believed to have fled the country fearing danger. As per reports, the women’s team coach Diana Barakzai and several other players have left Afghanistan claiming no support from either Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB) or the International Cricket Council (ICC). But, the former chairman of ACB, Hamid Shinwari had denied these reports. Days later, the Taliban sacked Shinwari and replaced him with Naseeb Khan.
Reacting to the developments, Australia’s Test captain Tim Paine said in a podcast,
“I imagine it will be impossible if teams are pulling out against playing against them and governments are not letting them travel to our shores, then how a team like that can be allowed to play in an ICC-sanctioned event is going to be very, very hard to see.”
The inception of modern-day cricket in Afghanistan began in the refugee camps of Peshwar in Pakistan. People who had fled the war in the 1990s had sought refuge in Pakistan. The majority of the current Afghan players started their tryst with cricket in those camps. They played with makeshift equipment and without any protective gear. The most prolific spinner in the T20 format today, Rashid Khan, also came from that refugee camp.
The newly appointed Afghanistan T20 captain, Mohammed Nabi had revealed that playing test cricket is one of the two ambitions of Afghanistan cricket. In 2019, that was achieved when they played a test match against India in India. The other ambition, he revealed, is to play at home. He added,
“I don’t know when we can feel that support and love… You know the uncertainty of our lives.”
It still remains unfulfilled.
With the Taliban coming back to power, the chances of playing international cricket in Afghanistan look extremely remote. The dream looks dead for the foreseeable future.
Does Afghanistan cricket deserve another chance? Can Afghanistan cricket be saved?
There have been several instances where a cricket board has struggled to keep cricket going in their country. Zimbabwe, for example, has been struggling to pay their players which forced many to quit international cricket. Pakistan’s mission to bring the game back to home soil is still an ongoing battle. There have been similar financial differences between the Caribbean players and their board.
In most of these cases, cricket boards from other countries and the ICC have stepped forward to help. The help includes financial aid, frequent tours, and, of course, ICC donations.
While Afghanistan has a puddle of problems, there will not be similar favours given. The Afghanistan problem is not a cricketing problem but a political one; therefore there is little chance of redemption.
While the Taliban are at the helm, no assistance will be forthcoming. The Afghan players will also find it physically dangerous to anger the Taliban. Neither do we know if the players would want to continue given the stance on the women’s game.
The future doesn’t look bright. It would be a devastating end for the Afghan story. It has been a fairy tale: starting in refugee camps of a foreign nation to a stage where they competed well in T20 cricket. Then there are, of course, the Afghan players’ sacrifices. They have relentlessly built this legacy. If ICC bans Afghanistan, all their work will be undone.
We, the cricketing community, can only hope for a solution. But as things stand it’s hard to know where or how to find one.