Afghanistan's cricket win brings joy to millions in nation’s darkest hour

For one priceless moment, Afghans around the world could celebrate in a time of uncertainty

There can be little doubt that whatever travails Afghanistan has suffered in recent times, cricket has been a unifying force in a country that has suffered four decades of almost continuous conflict.

But the gloomy national mood changed spectacularly on Monday night, as Afghanistan played its first ICC T20 World Cup match against Scotland’s national cricket team in Sharjah, UAE.

The national team’s recent win gave people a fresh spirit of hope
Osman Hamim

Millions of Afghans across the country and beyond cheered their national cricket team.

Some even said “we wish politicians were like our cricketers”, indicating their frustration with the performance of the former Afghan government and fears for the future.

Following the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan’s capital on August 15 and the subsequent travel restrictions, there was speculation as to whether the cricket team would be able to participate in the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup.

However, on October 6, Qatar’s Assistant Foreign Minister Lolwah Alkhater wrote on Twitter that Afghanistan’s official cricket team had travelled to Doha at the request of the Taliban government, to take part in a training session before the World Cup.

Before Afghanistan’s first match, the team’s captain, Mohammed Nabi, told the media that “back home in Afghanistan, there is a lot happening” and “the only happiness in Afghanistan is cricket”.

“There will be a lot of smiles on their faces … if we do well in the tournament,” the captain said.

As Monday night’s Afghanistan vs Scotland match was set to commence, the Afghan national anthem was played as the country’s tricolour flag fluttered in the background in Sharjah Cricket Stadium.

After the Taliban took control of Afghanistan, they replaced the tricolour national flag with their own white and black banner and banned the national anthem.

On the cricket ground, team captain Nabi was spotted tearing up as the anthem played. Many Afghans took to social media to react to the heart-rending sight of his public grief.

“Every Afghan feels the emotions of our captain,” Afghan journalist Habib Khan Totakhil wrote on Twitter.

“This makes the whole nation cry.”

“Their nation has been through so much over the last few months. Can’t help but root for these guys,” said Srinath T B, general manager of India’s Sunrisers Hyderabad cricket team. Three players in Sunrisers Hyderabad are also on the Afghan cricket team, playing in the Indian Premier League.

“You need strength to shed tears for others,” wrote journalist Tamal Saha.

As Afghanistan secured the biggest T20 International win — strolling to a 130-run victory over Scotland in the opening match, it seemed like all Afghans were celebrating the historic accomplishment.

From former presidents Hamid Karzai and Ashraf Ghani to world leaders, journalists and activists — and even Taliban officials, everyone posted congratulatory tweets for the Afghan cricket team.

“Congratulations to the Afghan cricket team and the entire Afghan nation for the historic win against Scotland,” Suhail Shaheen, a member of the Taliban Negotiation Team in Doha, tweeted.

“Afghanistan won,” tweeted another senior member of the Taliban, Anas Haqqani, as soon as the match was over.

But the streets of Kabul were empty after the match, a sign that sentiment in the capital is still subdued. Usually, sport victories in Afghanistan used to be marked with celebratory gunfire and Afghans would march in the streets holding national flags, playing patriotic music and performing attan, the country’s national dance.

Afghans from across the country have supported the team through its ups and downs. One resident of Kabul said that he had to take his TV into the hallway to watch the game as his mother was not feeling well.

“They are our heroes. They bring us happiness no matter what troubles we are in,” he told The National.

Osman Hamim, a 37-year-old development worker, said the progress that Afghan cricket has seen in recent years has been remarkable.

“The cricket team is one of the major achievements of the past 20 years,” he told The National.

“Most of the Afghans were losing hope in the last two and half months. The national team’s recent win gave people a fresh spirit of hope.”

Mr Hamim said his friends shared celebratory messages on social media following the game.

“The tricolour national flag brought people from different backgrounds together to cheer the team and celebrate its great victory,” Mr Hamim added.

For 14-year-old Sobhan, a street vendor, the best thing about the victory was simply that it was a great match.

“They played very well. I was so excited when Mujeeb took five wickets. They made us all very happy,” he said, his face flushed with happiness.

Khair Mohamad, a Taliban soldier serving at one of Kabul’s police check points, told The National that he was proud of the country’s national players.

“I am glad our cricket players won an international match. It is good for the whole country,” he said.

Several people on the streets of Kabul told The National that the victory has not only brought joy to the nation but created hope in the hearts of millions of Afghans.

Updated: October 28th 2021, 3:07 AM