Judged by the last time the sides met in a big match in the UAE, it would be easy to assume Afghanistan’s match against Pakistan in the Asia Cup would be a taut engagement.
Lose, and it would extinguish Afghanistan’s chances of reaching the final of a competition they have done so much to illuminate.
It was similar when they met in Dubai last year at the T20 World Cup. Some Afghan fans found the tension too difficult to bear, rushed the gates, and attempted to gain entry without tickets.
Similarly, at the 2019 50-over World Cup in England, the Afghanistan and Pakistan fixture had also brought with it crowd unrest.
And yet the two groups of supporters have a strong affinity, according to Rahim Sediqi, who is arguably Afghanistan’s most recognisable supporter.
“We are friends, but some people make trouble,” Sediqi said. “Not all of them. And cricket brings smiles to people’s faces.
“Here, there is such a large population of Afghans and they all want to show their support for the Afghan cricket team.
“At Sharjah today, there will be a full crowd, and there will be more Afghans than Pakistanis. Our nation is crazy about cricket, and they all want to support the team.”
As he speaks on the morning of the game, Sediqi has good reason to say nice things about the opposition.
The New Zealand resident has been touring the world for the past decade supporting the Afghan national cricket team.
On each match day he has a different motif daubed on his back, chest and face. Wherever he is in the world, he searches out an artist especially for the job.
And for matches in the UAE, the man tasked with the commission is Pakistani.
Ahead of the match against his homeland, Faisal Mahboob charges Dh500 for a piece of work which takes around three hours to complete.
From a simple head shot he has googled on his smartphone, Mahboob creates an intricate portrait of Rashid Khan on Sediqi’s back.
“I want to give more energy to him, so that he has a good game,” Sediqi said of the reason for picking the champion leg-spinner as his image du jour.
“It’s not like he had a bad match last time [when Afghanistan lost their opening Super 4 match to Sri Lanka], but I wanted to draw his picture this time because it is such a big match for us.
“We need to beat Pakistan today [to stand a chance of reaching the final]. We know how to play in Sharjah, and Inshallah we will beat them. But I don’t want to make him [artist, Faisal] angry!”
Sat on the floor of his apartment in Hor Al Anz, Mahboob seems perfectly content in his work.
The artist and his human canvas agree on the design as they go, with Sediqi tracking the progress live via his smartphone, which is relaying it via his own TikTok channel.
When Mahboob started his work, there were 2,000 viewers tuned in live to the Afghan superfan’s broadcast.
After completing the image, they agree on the slogan: “Pride of Afghanistan.” To which Mahboob smilingly says: “So I’ll just write, ‘Pride of Pakistan,’ here, OK?”
The room full of Afghans play along with the joke.
“He is a very nice man,” Sediqi said. “We have always been coming to him for these paintings and we like him as a brother.”
Mahboob has been an artist for the past 14 years. His body of work extends to murals and other private commissions, including occasionally body painting.
“It depends on the work – sometimes I do this, but more often I’ll be doing designs on walls in hotels or cafes,” Mahboob said.
“I’m proud of all my paintings as this is my profession, but my preferred style is traditional landscape painting, particularly of my home in Lahore.”
After the job is complete, Sediqi and his friend head to Al Mamzar Beach for some shots to use on his Facebook page with the Sharjah skyline in the background.
Given the hot weather, he admits the paintings are unlikely to last in perfect condition much past the first innings.
But he is sure to be back tomorrow for the next instalment, ahead of Afghanistan’s final Super 4 match against India.
“I just want to bring smiles to people’s faces, and they all love these pictures,” Sediqi said.