The people of Afghanistan have little in their lives to celebrate. The decades old war –ridden country has only the memories of death and destruction. Afghans have little reason to feel happy. But the performance of their cricket team in the ongoing Asia cup has given them a reason to rejoice. Afghans were included in the tournament as under-dogs but they ended ahead of cricketing giants of Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. The Afghanistan Cricket team ended the Asia cup campaign with flying colours as they forced a tie with the cricketing biggies like India. They would have wanted a win but tying against a country ranked as number two in international cricketing ranks is no less than a win. India, for its quality cricket, has remained not only unbeaten in the tournament but it inflicted crushing defeats to teams like Pakistan and Bangladesh. Pakistan, despite all the aura around its team, faced two stunning defeats at the hands of India in the tournament. Both the matches played at league level and supper four, Pakistani cricketers seemed pigmies before their Indian rivals. These were, in fact, one-sided match like a club team facing a international team. But Afghan story is entirely different. The Afghan boys produced a stellar show to tie the game against India. This marked a transformation for Afghanistan in ODI cricket. From October 2015 till September 2018, Afghanistan has won 29 of its 50 ODIs. They have a better win-loss ratio than Pakistan, Australia, Sri Lanka, West Indies and Bangladesh amongst others. Of course, this is also a result of playing Associate Members, but still their rise has been nothing short of sensational. These included two series wins in Zimbabwe, maiden series wins in Sharjah and India (against Ireland), wins against West Indies and Sri Lanka.
The story of Afghanistan cricket is a glorious rise from rugs. Many of the players are born and brought up in refugee camps in Pakistan. That is where the likes of Nawroz Mangal, Mohammad Nabi and Karim Sadiq learnt their cricket – playing with bats made of sticks, cardboard wickets and paper balls. Some of them did not have food to eat. They could not make ends meet. They did not know whether there will be a tomorrow. They were driven out of home – their home had become a battle-ground. Things began to change in 2000 when the ban on the sport was lifted by the Taliban. The Afghanistan Cricket Federation became an affiliate member in 2001. But the political situation remained grim and volatile. The same year 9/11 bombing in America happened. America, in retaliation, invaded Afghanistan a month later, making the whole country a new battleground after USSR exit. Afghans resolve and commitment with cricket, however, went on and it rose by leaps and bounds in the years to come. In the Asia cup, Afghanistan communicated it loud and clear that they are behind none. For India’s great show of power and prowess against teams like Pakistan and Bangladesh, India’s clash with Afghanistan was expected to be just another game, but the Afghans ensured it turn up the most exciting game in the tournament. The wicket-keeper opening batsman Mohammad Shahzad showed the way. He hit a brilliant 124 runs off 116 balls to enable his country to march past the 250-run mark. Then came the turn of their bowlers. Their spin attack curtailed Indian batsmen, though known as the best players of the spinners across the world, and did not allow them to cross the line. India needed seven runs to win in the last over. But Afghans restricted them to six runs only forcing a tie in the match. Afghanistan, indeed, lost the tournament but they won the hearts and minds of cricket lovers across the world.