Afghan 'Lagaan' to light up World Twenty20

From war to cricket

Afghan 'Lagaan' to light up World Twenty20

Afghanistan cricket team members celebrate their entry into the World T20 championship. File photo

For that to happen, however, Dhoni’s men should lose their World T20 cricket championship campaign opener on Saturday at St Lucia’s Beausejour Stadium. Upsets are always possible in the game’s shortest version— remember how India suffered an embarrassing defeat in their ICC World Cup opener against Bangladesh in West Indies in 2007?   

On Saturday, India play Afghanistan, a country known better for unending violence and war for over 30 years now and hardly for its cricket. Until about ten years back, formal cricket didn’t even exist in the country. Ironically, the war might have actually sown the seeds of passionate cricket amongst youth in that country.

Many leading members of the Afghan squad led by Nawroz Khan Mangal, already in West Indies, got their initiation into the game in the refugee camps across the border in North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan, more specifically in Peshawar.
Mangal and his bunch of young cricketers are already heroes in Afghanistan, though their names are hardly known even to die-hard cricket fan outside that country. Not without reasons.

The country is yet to have a cricket stadium worth the name. The first one might perhaps come up in a year or so, in Jalalabad.

Yet, from being ranked 29th in 2008, Afghanistan has made remarkable progress to qualify for the 3rd edition of the World T20 championship, as one of the 12 teams. Practising mostly in Sharjah under their Pakistani coach for the last two years Kabir Khan, the Afghan team has performed consistently to qualify for the T20 event, defeating UAE and Ireland teams convincingly. On Wednesday, Mangal’s men defeated Ireland in a warm-up match in Guyana by five wickets.

And, for a deeply scarred nation, the journey of the cricket team has been little short of momentous. When they returned home after sweeping Ireland aside in Dubai and qualifying for the World T20 in February, upwards of 25,000 people lined the streets of Kabul to welcome their heroes home.

Mangal, a batting all-rounder who bowls off-spinners, is not the only hero. There are, to name a few, fast bowler Hamid Hassan, hard-hitting Raees Ahmadzai and Karim “boom boom” Sadiq in the team.

Hassan has clocked 90 mph speed while practising in England and Raees has the reputation of plundering 114 runs in a 12 over match which included 12 sixes. Unlike their counterparts from other countries participating in the T20 event, Afghan players aren’t really going to get richer playing at this level.

According to reports each player gets paid just about Rs 3,500 a day for the tour. It is more for pride and love of people in Afghanistan.

“Their (Afghan people) love and prayers have a great motivating effect on the team,” says 18-year-old wicketkeeper Mohammad Shahzad, who idolises Dhoni. Should they register an upset win over India and South Africa—the two teams they play in the league stage of the tournament— it should be a huge morale booster for the country that continues to struggle to emerge out of the prolonged strife.

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