Win or lose, Afghanistan are already cricket World Cup heroes
Conflict, violence and turmoil have been the main reasons Afghanistan has made headlines in recent years. Amid a war lasting almost two decades, moments of national joy and excitement have been few and far between.
But with the Afghanistan cricket team facing England on Tuesday in only its second Word Cup appearance, we should celebrate the opportunity to show the world the progress the country has made.
As one of the national sports of Afghanistan, cricket has become synonymous with the country’s culture and ethos. Yet it was only 20 years ago that a cricket board was established in the country. In this short space of time, the Afghan national side has made an impressive and dogged rise to a position where it is able to compete with the best at an international level. In 2009, Afghanistan was competing in Division Five, the lowest tier of the World Cricket league. Six years later it secured a place in its first World Cup.
This success story is remarkable considering that for almost the entire 1990s there was no safe space to practice or play in Afghanistan. Under Taliban rule, sports were banned. There was no cricket team, no pitches and no talk of entering into world competition. Under the shadow of enduring conflict, the current team has grown up facing challenges that would be unimaginable to many. Terror attacks, displacement and conflict continue to affect the country.
However, throughout the turmoil, the game has been a source of positivity and strength. Afghanistan is up against well-established teams, such as Australia,
India and England, all of which have access to funding and resources that are out of reach for most. In this context, we must celebrate the success of the nation in standing alongside these international titans. It is testament to the Afghan people’s resilience, tenacity and spirit in the face of adversity.
For members of the Afghan diaspora in this country, it is a moment of pride to see Afghanistan meet England on the same pitch. England has been a long-standing supporter and advocate of cricket in Afghanistan. During the 2003 national trials in Afghanistan, England donated kit and British diplomats attended to show their support.
Like many people who call more than one country “home,” the World Cup is an exciting moment. Almost 30 years ago, the British Conservative politician Norman Tebbit suggested that immigrants who support their homeland rather than England at cricket matches were not significantly integrated.
However, the “cricket test,” or so-called “Tebbit test,” is a myth that has long since been dismantled. The World Cup is a chance to enjoy and support all and any countries. I know I will be cheering for both sides on Tuesday, soaking up the atmosphere, enjoying the friendly rivalry, and celebrating afterwards whatever the winner.
Volunteers at the Afghanistan and Central Asian Association recently attended warm-up matches between England and Afghanistan, and said the atmosphere was that of a carnival — nations coming together to enjoy the occasion. We spoke to Afghan supporters and communities at the match who were celebrating the country’s achievements in making it to the tournament, and enjoying time with friends and family — the result of the game was inconsequential. The outcome of the warmup match suggests that any victory for Afghanistan on Tuesday will be hard won, indeed. Afghanistan may be the underdog, but being British, it is the underdog that I love to back.
Afghanistan has overcome many hardships to reach the World Cup, and I am positive it will demonstrate its resilience as nations, communities and cultures come together over the next few weeks.
Regardless of the result on the pitch, Afghanistan are the winners. Theirs is a story of hope and overcoming the odds that I hope will inspire the next generation of people in the country in their pursuits both on and off the field as they continue to break boundaries.
• Rabia Nasimi is strategic development manager at the Afghanistan and Central Asian Association.
For more information about Rabia Nasimi and the work of the association, visit: https://acaa.org.uk/