KABUL: Cricket fans watch a live broadcast of Afghanistan’s semi-final against South Africa on a big screen at the Kabul International Stadium on Thursday.—AFP
KABUL: Cricket fans watch a live broadcast of Afghanistan’s semi-final against South Africa on a big screen at the Kabul International Stadium on Thursday.—AFP

KABUL: Afghans mourned the end of their T20 World Cup dreams on Thursday but said the cricket team’s performances in reaching a first semi-final gave them hope for the future.

An all-male crowd of hundreds — among them armed Taliban — watched on two large screens at Kabul Cricket Stadium as South Africa thrashed Afghanistan by nine wickets in Trinidad.

Hopes had been high that the Afghans would defeat South Africa, after shocking the mighty Australia for the first time on the way to the last four.

Fans cheered and clap­ped their support even as Afghanistan were routed for a meagre 56 runs.

Instead of the celebrations seen after Afghan­istan’s wins during the dream run to the semi-final, sombre crowds petered out of the stadium as South Africa’s triumph was sealed with ease.

“We still commend our heroes,” spectator Tila Mohammad Kharotai told AFP, saying he thought the Afghan team was emotionally hungover after defeating Bangladesh just two days earlier in a nail-biter.

“They made Afghans proud and they raised our flag high in the stadiums, and we were very happy with that,” said the 45-year-old diehard fan.

The surprise World Cup run provided rare mom­ents of widespread celebrations in a country ravaged by four decades of war and beleaguered by economic, humanitarian and political crises.

“We’ll always support our team, we’ll welcome them at the airport when they come home,” said 25-year-old fan Aziz Rahman Rahmani.

“The Afghan cricket team is more than a cricket team… this is not only a game of bat and ball for us, it’s a source of joy, a reason for the Afghans to unite,” the Kabul-based money-changer told AFP.

In a country still reeling from the upheaval of the Taliban takeover in 2021, many Taliban members joined the crowd at the stadium watch event organised by the national cricket board.

They waved the white and black flag of the Tali­b­an authorities, cheering on the team still bearing the banned tricolour flag of the previous government. During breaks in play, speakers boomed out Taliban anthems calling for unity and rebuilding of the country.

The Taliban authorities deployed extra security and the crowd was all male, women having been effectively banned from sports and sports venues.

Watching the match on TV at home, Shkula Danish was disheartened by the heavy loss. “The match didn’t go as we’d hoped,” she told AFP over the phone from eastern Paktia province. “It’s heartbreaking.”

For Javid Momand, however, the team’s journey in the competition was still worth celebrating. The university lecturer was proud of the “men in blue” saying, “They lifted up Afghanistan’s name. “Wherever you go, if people are talking about cricket, they’re talking about Afghanistan.”

As Tila Mohammad filed quietly out of the stadium, he said the team’s showing gave him hope for the future. “God willing, the time will come when they will bri­ng a World Cup trophy home to Afghanistan.”

Published in Dawn, June 28th, 2024

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