From refugee camps to the World Cup: The heart-warming story of every Afghanistan cricketer
The sun peered from behind the hill and brought with it, a dawn of hope. The hope of peace. The sun had peered for every single day since the past decade, but the bullet in the distance shattered all the hope. The hill has seen bloodshed, heard cries of pain and experienced a realm of elongated gloom.
Afghanistan was invaded by Soviet troops in 1979, forcing the Afghans to migrate to refugee camps in Pakistan. Terror loomed large, families were separated and survival was a struggle. Terrorist groups like the Taliban had established a firm stranglehold, they denied fundamental rights. Anyone who opposed them was executed, the trigger had indeed established dominance.
Livelihood was stifling, freedom was curbed. The young boy had seen it all. He wanted to play a little game, but the terror groups had put yet another restriction in place, kids weren’t supposed to play. Once in a while, the boy did play a game of marbles or seven stones with his group of friends when the terrorists weren’t around. On one such occasion, a tattered rubber ball rolled along the uneven land and struck his feet. The boy was startled and observed the round object with great scrutiny. Soon, two youths emerged, one of them had a long piece of wood. The boy was horrified at the sight of the wooden log. Had the boys come to beat him up?
The peekaboo with the terrorists continued. But now the boy had a new game to play. Cricket, by far, is the most popular game in Pakistan, the wooden log and the ball had also become the favourite in the refugee camp. The youths were the pioneers, but now the game had captured the imagination of every young boy in the camp. Cricket induced a new life in the camp and had the power to overcome the gloom. Sport diverted the minds of youth to more constructive activities and overshadowed the negativity.
The refugees finally returned back to their homeland. But the worst was yet to come. Terrorist groups in Afghanistan had greater power than the ones the boy had ever seen. Public executions, homicides, explosions were everyday occurrences. The sun was paler, the hill wore a weary look. The boys still wanted to play their favourite game and not even the terrorists could stop the fascination of the villagers for the game of cricket.
“Six!” shouted the boy as he sealed a victory for his team. His arms outstretched in jubilation as his teammates embraced him. At this point, a gunshot was fired in the overcast sky. The celebrations were halted and the boys stood, biting their lips. Shadows loomed large as two men appeared with AK-47s held in their palms. “What are you doing?” asked one gun-brandishing man in his deep, hoarse voice. Deathly silence followed, and only the sound of the heartbeats of the boys screamed in unison. Would the cement pitch see bloodshed and execution? In the distance, the villagers stood aghast and awaited the worst. Would the trigger emerge victorious yet again?
The boys waited in anticipation of what was to come. The terrorists now walked up, close to the boys. The villagers stood with their palms clasped over their mouths as a continuous stream of tears rolled down the cheeks of the mothers of those boys. “Stop it! Don’t harm my child,” a mother cried, and flung herself over her child. Maternal love stood unflinching in these testing times. The salty stream now reduced to a trickle.
The sniffling mother stood firmly, her child well concealed behind her tremendously large belly. The terrorists yawned, the moment wasn’t emotional for them. The hefty man looked sternly at the mother and with a simple manoeuvre, pushed the large woman to the ground. One terrorist extended his arm and nodded towards the boy who had the wooden log firmly gripped in his palm. The boy’s trembling arm extended the wooden piece of gratitude towards the other extended arm. The terrorists took the eternal walk to the cement pitch.
He must have been a prodigy with the gun but was a novice with the bat. He took a rather intriguing stance with the brick stumps behind him and sternly directed the boys to return back to their game.
The next delivery by the bowler was overpitched. The terrorist pursed his lips and wildly swung his bat. Lo and behold, the ball sailed over the boundary for cricket’s own home run. The terrorist was overjoyed and put up a little laughter on his otherwise stern face. This shot was sweeter than the ones he normally took. He felt like a maverick, but his spell of excellence was short lived. He was clean bowled off the very next delivery. He wasn’t dismayed, the game was immense fun for him too. With a song on his lips, his arms twitched and the peculiar stance was taken again. Terror had taken a backseat and the ominous gun lay on the dust, neglected. Cricket had the power to thrill even the brutal man. After a few amateur strokes, the terrorists left, permitting the boys to play.
Cricket’s popularity in Afghanistan on the rise
The transition was a feel-good story for all the villagers. For the first time in a decade, the hill had seen a positive metamorphosis. Cricket blossomed in the village. The dawn of hope was here, but no bullet could shatter it. Even the terrorist groups had developed a liking for the sport and many a youth started trading their guns for bat and ball. Today, every province in Afghanistan fields its own eleven, even the Taliban are there to cheer the sides. Sport won a battle when most peace operations failed.
Cricket was probably Pakistan’s greatest gift to Afghanistan and has now become immensely popular in Afghanistan. The constant talent enabled Afghanistan to formulate its very own national cricket team. When the country will participate in the 2015 ICC World Cup, it will be amongst just 14 others who have qualified to do so.
Sport, therefore, is a strong promoter of peace. The war cries, the gloom, the destruction must never impose dominance. Sport is a tool that overshadows negativity.
From refugee camps to the international circuit, every Afghani cricketer has an absorbing story of undiminished grit and passion for the sport.