PAKISTAN’S nerve-fraying clash with minnows Afghanistan last Saturday, where the latter nearly pulled off the biggest upset of the World Cup, has yet again affirmed the remarkable progress of the war-torn neighbouring nation within a short span of time.
The youngest of the 10 competing nations — attaining international cricket status as late as 2009 — Afghanistan displayed grit and maturity as they fought back gallantly to defend their total, making their experienced rivals grind for every run before going down in a last-over finish.
Just a week earlier, the formidable India had also survived a scare in a fiercely contested match.
Some may still argue about Afghanistan’s ability to sustain their act in the field, given their eight losses in as many games. However, none could question the potential and skill they have shown in this gentleman’s game over the past decade or so. Their swift qualification for the 2015 World Cup made critics sit up and take notice.
The knowledgeable ones, though, knew that the achievement was not simply born through passion, but by competing with other more experienced associate members for the honour of playing in the World Cup.
It all started in the 1990s, when cricket became popular amongst Afghan refugees in Pakistan and the Afghanistan Cricket Federation was formed.
They continued to play on their return home in late 2001.
Like all sports, cricket was originally banned by the Taliban, but became an exception in 2000.
Afghanistan was elected as an affiliate member of the ICC the following year.
They have not looked back since, and today cricket is one of the most popular sports in the country, having produced many talented players.
Though domestic cricket structure in the region is still in its infancy, the player base is not too large and opportunities to play big teams are rare.
But the Afghans have, indeed, taken the hardship and challenges of the game head-on to script an incredible success story.
Published in Dawn, July 2nd, 2019