From refugee camps to global attention : The rise of Afghani cricket
Having battled against the gruesome mentality of old-school stereotypes, having battled against the drudgery of refugee camps, having battled against the super-powers, against a terrorist outfit in the name of Taliban and against almost every oppressive evil that exists out there in the world, just before the summit of the Asia Cup, the Pashtuns, the Hazaras, the Uzbeks and the Tajiks of Afghanistan united for one sole reason and that reason was the glorious sport of cricket.
Afghanistan, as a nation, boasts of a terrific beauty regarding its geography but their past has been torn apart due to several reasons. It is a nation that has shaken off disgruntled regimes, has fought wars and suffered humongous amount of losses both in property and with emotions but it is starting to slowly stand on its feet again and if there is one thing that has gotten every Afghani to stand up and cheer about, it has been their phenomenal rise in cricket.
In early June this year, Afghanistan announced itself into the format of a cricket that only 11 international nations have competed in, in 150 years and that was Test cricket against India. Fast forward from this achievement, their inevitable climb onto the international forum was represented in the Asia Cup.
Right from the group stage, the team began to impress and win the hearts of the crores of people that were watching with sublime victories over Bangladesh and Srilanka.
The challenge, of course, did not stop here and the team fought bravely against Pakistan and Bangladesh again in the super-four round but they suffered close losses but the major highlight came when they locked horns against India and earned a fantastic draw. The world-wide appreciation that was received due to this was phenomenal but just to get here as pointed out earlier, the team has come a long way.
The first real salute goes to the spirit and the determination as well as the persistence of the Afghani team. A lot of the players have grown in refugee camps and adding to all of this has been other rampant issues like the problem of Visa to play international cricket, the fact that there is no home-ground experience and the fact that they had to battle a lot of the social stereotype like "cricket gets you nothing".
To name a few players, Mohammad Nabi, the former captain of the team, has played a great role in the development of the current bunch of players. Taking to the streets and playing a local form of cricket involving sticks and cardboards, Nabi's opportunity came when he was spotted by a touring English side and selected into a local team, thereby eventually earning a cricket scholarship in Britain.
Nawroz Mangal, the former captain, has a similar story as he made it out from the refugee camp too. Numerous other players who have had a taste of Afghani cricket have matching story-lines.
Karim Sadiq, right-handed all-rounder admitted once that they did not even have the money to eat and he was under pressure from his family because he was not earning. The father of Afghanistan's cricket Taj Malook highlighted the social rebellion against cricket too as he said that fathers of the youngsters approached him and warned him to not lure their children into playing cricket because the sport would offer nothing.
However, in spite of all this, the players persisted ahead and their major motive was to play the sport in front of the nation and make the nation proud in front of the world. Of all such stories, none is probably more fascinating and nothing serves as a better proof than the story of Rashid Khan.
The magnificent leg-spinner has become a ray of hope and an icon of Afghani cricket and his fame stems out of his achievements from the Indian Premier League as he has become an integral part of Sunrisers Hyderabad team and he has not had an easy life.
A countless number of teams compete for his name now and want him in their team and that speaks volumes about how far he has ventured out.
Along with the spirit, the aid has come from a wealth of foreign experience for the growth of the team. Pakistani influence in the refugee camps did indeed play a huge part in kick-starting the love for the game but other people have played a hand too.
One major example is Andy Moles himself, the Englishman who coached New Zealand but moved to Kabul when the opportunity came and he definitely played a part in enhancing the team's cricket and also in trying to understand the tough structure of the Afghan history and how it can be forged into cultivating a strong mentality.
Prior to 2016, legendary Pakistani captain Inzamam-Ul-Haq was the head coach and was succeeded by India's Lalchand Rajput. Phil Simmons from West Indies is the current coach of the team and his coaching department does boast of a vast diversity as Umesh Patwal from India is the batting coach, Charl Langeveldt is the bowling coach from South-Africa and Pakistan's Azeem Malik is the fitness trainer. Foreign experience is really important and such personnel are playing a crucial role in taking the cricket team further.
The Afghani journey on the world stage began in 2008 as they entered the World Cricket League Division 5. They played World-Twenty20 as an international event in 2010 and they became a top associate nation in 2012 and soon, they trotted towards the doors of the ICC to request for a Test status and they did indeed got it.
The colossal rise has garnered attention and applause from the entire world and their heroes deserve a mentioning again. Perhaps every single time an Afghani takes the field, he knows that he serves a larger purpose and their progress is a constant reminder of the difficult lives they have left in their nation and the hope they have to give for their nation to celebrate even as the forces of evil continue to shadow their existence.
One would only hope that the nation reaches the pinnacle of sporting glory one day because they deserve it.