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Afghanistan Is Falling In Love With Cricket

Catching onto "the gentleman's game" later than its neighbors India and Pakistan, the Afghan team is currently ranked 9th in International Twenty20 cricket.

Bowling with the national team in Kabul's stadium
Bowling with the national team in Kabul's stadium
Shadi Khan Saif

The morning practice session is underway in the Kabul cricket stadium.

Mohibullah Orya Khail joined the national squad just couple of months ago. "I am happy and proud to have made it to the national squad at the age of 19," he says. Dreaming of playing for his country, he travels hundreds of miles to come and train in the capital city.

As Cricket Board spokesman Farid Hotak points out, the stadium's facilities have dramatically improved. "A decade ago there were just tents in the open ground here, now we have an indoor academy, a nice hostel for the players with all sorts of facilities, and an international standard cricket ground which has the capacity to entertain thousands of people."

In neighboring Pakistan and India the game is almost like a religion but here in Afghanistan it's only a decade old. It was brought to the country by Afghan refugees when they returned home from Pakistan.

Chief Executive of Afghanistan Cricket Noor Muhamamd Murrad says that cricket fits with the conservative culture here. "Afghanistan is an Islamic country and the dress-code of this game allows parents to let their sons and daughters to go out and play it."

But like most sectors of Afghan life, the development of cricket has been possible thanks to foreign aid.

The politics of the sport

The Indian government recently gave one million dollars to build a stadium in the war-torn province of Kandahar near the Pakistani border. Indian aid in Afghanistan is a highly sensitive, and Pakistan is concerned about growing Indian influence near the western border it shares with Afghanistan.

Ahmad Mehboob, head of the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency, notes that "India is playing a very important role in the reconstruction of Afghanistan. This reconstruction means having more influence, more contacts with the government and people and this is something that makes the Pakistani government, establishment and their spy agencies all very nervous."

Presidential advisor to the Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Shahzada Raees downplays these concerns, saying the country welcomes financial support from all of its neighbors. "India has given us aid to build a cricket stadium, we hope that Pakistan and Iran will also give similar aid to us," he says. "We hope that they can put aside their hostilities and create positive competition through sport."

For young cricket hopefuls like Orya Khail it’s not important where the money comes from. "Obviously there is a need for more cricket grounds and academies so that we can hunt more talent for the national squad."

The national team is focusing on preparing a tough squad to take part in the Cricket World Cup that will be held in Australia next year.

An impressive performance there would really make the locals fans cheer.

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photo of garbage bins blocking the road

A roadblock as the conflict simmers near the northern Kosovo city of Mitrovica

Predrag Milosavljevic/Xinhua via ZUMA
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