By Cameron Weymes
Despite enduring over 40 years of conflict, Afghanistan is currently ranked seventh in the world in T20 cricket.
Cricket has only become popular in Afghanistan since the 1990s, when Afghan refugees played the sport while living in Pakistan.
The Afghan team qualified for their first Cricket World Cup in 2015 and beat Ireland to qualify for the 2019 tournament.
The team has also beaten established cricketing nations such as Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and the West Indies in one-day internationals.
The effect of the team’s success on people back home has been massive.
“Instead of focusing on the problems in the country such as war there’s now something fun for our youngsters to think of,” said Diva Patang, a reporter for the Afghan news station RTA.
“Children now have role models that are examples for themselves. When you ask youngsters in Afghanistan who they want to be when they grow up, most will say one of the international players such as Rashid Khan or Mujeeb Ur Rahman,” she added.
The Afghan constitution states that the country is home to 14 ethnic groups, the main ones being Pashtun, Tajik, Hazara and Uzbek.
According to Diva, when the cricket team is playing the whole country is behind them, regardless of ethnicity.
“Everyone supports them. President Ashraf Ghani even cites the cricket team as an example of Afghans being able to work together.”
“All over the country you’ll find children playing cricket at school and on the streets,” she said.
The recent Afghan presidential election saw a turnout of less than 25% and took five months to declare a winner.
In addition, the Afghan government has been sidelined from the peace talks between the US and the Taliban, which resulted in agreement in late February.
For the Afghan people, fatigued by war and politics, cricket is a welcome break.
“If you tweet something about Afghan politics and something about Afghan cricket, you will see the difference in interest levels among the people,” said Diva.
“For Afghans cricket means a lot. If there is something wrong with the cricket, they take it personally. There will be anger and demonstrations.”
“There’s interest in other sports in Afghanistan, but cricket is number one,” she added.
Afghanistan will play Ireland in India in a three-part T20 international starting on March 6, 2020 at the Greater Noida Sports Complex Ground, India.
The teams are very familiar with one another having played 26 times at one-day internationals, winning 13 each.
However, it has been more one-sided at T20, with Afghanistan winning 12 of 15 encounters between the two.
“Lately Afghanistan has been very successful against Ireland. The Afghan team has become very familiar with the Irish team and their tactics so I think Afghanistan is in a good position,” said Diva.
“Our team has spent a lot of time in India and familiarised themselves with the hot weather. Speaking to the players myself, they say they are very keen and I think it will be a good match to watch,” she concluded.