By A.Prasanna Kumar*
With the line-up for the 2019 Cricket World Cup virtually complete, at the bottom of the table is Afghanistan which has lost eight of the nine matches it has played, while one was washed out. But these minnows of world cricket, the little known Afghanistan cricketers, have won the hearts of the people for the grace, dignity and grit with which they have played in the World Cup.
The talented Afghan bunch of cricketers had former World Cup champions India and Pakistan in deep trouble, losing to the former by just eleven runs and the latter in the last over of the match with just two balls to spare. They were gallant in their fight and gracious in defeat.
What is amazing is that the small and beleaguered country, one of the poorest in the world, with less than half percent of the world’s population, 42% of whom are below the poverty line has, despite endless internal strife and frequent attacks from outside, emerged as a force to reckon with in the world of cricket. Afghanistan has emerged as another country in South Asia that has the potential to emulate India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka in winning the World Cup one day.
Cricket is said to have been played in Afghanistan since the mid 19th century, but it is only in recent years that the national team has become successful due to training support from India and other countries. The Afghanistan Cricket Board was formed in 1995 and became an affiliate member of the International Cricket Council (ICC) in 2001 and a member of the Asian Cricket Council (ACC) in 2003.
The Afghan spirit sends a message across the sub-continent, if not the world. Undaunted by decades of violent strife, poverty, social inequality and gender injustice, the people of Afghanistan display extraordinary courage and fortitude in fighting adversity. Terrorist strikes take a heavy toll of life and property on a daily basis and they are living with it.
Both the superpowers, the USA and then Soviet Union (Russia), have meddled in Afghanistan’s internal affairs, destabilized their polity and demoralized their society. The Russian invasion of Afghanistan on Christmas eve in 1979 was described by the then American President as “an atheist invasion on an Islamic nation.”
The US was no less meddlesome in Afghan affairs and the rise of terrorism in this part of the world was fuelled by super power rivalry.
The Pathans and Pakhtuns are known for their bravery and spirit of sacrifice. Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, known as Frontier Gandhi was a moral colossus and champion of peace who promoted Gandhian ideals throughout his long life. He was a towering figure, a highly respected leader by the people of the sub-continent, who was against the partition of India.
Rajmohan Gandhi’s book on Badshah Khan is a fitting tribute to the great crusader for communal harmony.
Relations between India and Afghanistan have always remained cooperative and some Afghan cricketers, like Rashid Khan and Mohammed Nabi, are highly popular in India, thanks to the Indian Premier League (IPL) and the fact that the Afghan cricket team has its ‘home ground’ in Greater Noida and Dehradun, in India, due to the conflict situation in that country.
Cricket, The Noblest Game as Neville Cardus and John Arlott described, it can build bridges of understanding between nations. Relations between countries in South Asia urgently need to be improved and the best and easiest way is not only to revive cricket tours between India and Pakistan but also between other south Asian countries. There is an undercurrent of mutual love and respect among the peoples of South Asia and cricketers, it would appear, are the best ambassadors of goodwill in creating a climate of peace.
Afghanistan has endeared itself to the cricket lovers of the world by upholding the true spirit of the game. Three Cheers to Afghanistan!
*About the author: The author is President, Centre for Policy Studies and was All India Radio’s sports broadcaster for 40 years.
Source: This article was published by South Asia Monitor