Afghan Cricket is essentially Made in Pakistan; so cut the crap!

Earlier this month, Afghanistan Cricket Board’s (ACB) interim Chief Executive Officer, Asadullah Khan claimed that Afghanistan cricket is better than Pakistan in all aspects. I can take that — everyone likes their own mangoes, and there is no doubt that Afghanistan Cricket has come a long way and they have some good talent in the team, which is great for the sport. Afghanistan doing well has received great appreciation across the board, including Pakistan Cricket followers. Even the Prime Minister of Pakistan publicly applauded the Afghanistan Cricket Team.

But Asadullah Khan further added that Pakistan should seek technical help and coaching from Afghanistan for improving their cricket, in the backdrop of Pakistan’s initial loss to West Indies. That’s going a bit too far. For reference, most of the Cricket that this Mr Asadullah Khan has ever played — has been in Pakistan. His comment came at a time when the team he is boasting about is placed the bottom of the table in the ICC CW 2019, and in a previous interview he is reported to have said:

“I played my initial cricket in Pakistan and acknowledge the overwhelming support of the neighbouring country”

This comment did not come in a vacuum and was more than just a sporting commentary. Its part of Afghanistan’s geopolitical shift towards Pakistan’s rival India, and was meant more for political point-scoring.

The internet has also been filled with a lot of vitriol coming from Afghan cricket fans needlessly bashing Pakistan and trying to earn brownie points with India, which is largely a result of ACB’s recent aggressive line towards Pakistan with an aim to get closer to their new friend, India.

The Afghan team had its early genesis in the refugee camps of Pakistan, where young Afghans who had fled the war in their own country, were growing up, their days spent playing cricket with sticky tape balls. To this date, nearly all of the squad is made up of lads either born in Pakistan, or who lived most of their lives in Pakistan. It becomes evident when they come to speak at any occasion and you find them fluent in Urdu, but only some of them being able to communicate well in Pashtu or Darri. The Afghan captain, in response to a question from a journalist, was found saying:

Hum to dube hai sanam; tujhe bhi leke dubenge. (We are drowning, but we will take you with us.)”

You may be surprised to know that the after the start of the WC2019, the ACB requested the ICC and broadcasters to not use Urdu with their players because they found them using Urdu way more frequently than they had wanted. Not long ago, the ACB was furious that some of their players were still living in Pakistan and gave them a notice of two months to return and settle back in Afghanistan as full residents or lose their contracts.

Let’s review what has Pakistan done for Afghanistan Cricket over the years and why Mr Asadullah Khan needs to be more respectful.

National Cricket Academy Lahore hosted Afghan players

Starting in the year 2013, Pakistan opened the gates of the country’s premier Cricket training institution, the National Cricket Academy in Lahore for the Afghan cricketers. The academy is only open for Pakistani players under a contract with the PCB but Pakistan made an exception and allowed Afghan players to use the facility on a number of occasions.

Coaching for Afghan Under-19 team in Lahore

Since the year 2014, Pakistan has been hosting young Afghan cricketing talent in Lahore to be coached by country’s elite coaching staff in Lahore. The Afghan U-19 team stayed in Lahore for an extended period in preparation for the WC that year. The team was also offered eight practice matches, including three against Pakistan’s U-19 to prepare them for the WC event.

Afghans allowed playing in Pakistan’s domestic circuit

Pakistan has played a pivotal role in Afghanistan’s fairytale rise in international cricket, having helped them with coaches, training facilities and most importantly, allowing them to play in Pakistan’s domestic cricket circuit. This is unusual as the domestic circuit is open for local Pakistani players who have gone through the various academies and other routes, but Pakistan made a special opening for Afghan Cricketers into a structured domestic circuit to give them valuable experience.

Setting up the Afghanistan Cricket Board

Under an MoU signed between PCB and ACB, Pakistan provided support for setup and improvement of Afghanistan Cricket board, which included:

  • education programmes, coaching courses, skill and performance analysis and basic umpiring courses
  • preliminary curator courses for the Afghans to organise and implement players’ development programmes
  • high-performance camps of four weeks
  • annual camps with five matches between emerging Afghan and NCA teams

Noor Mohammad, the then CEO of the ACB said:

“The MOU that we have just signed will put Afghanistan cricket development on a fast track. Our cricketers, coaches and umpires will be able to make use of PCB’s excellent facilities…”

Geopolitics influencing ACB’s shift to BCCI

You’d expect sports to be immune of geopolitics but unfortunately not. The states of Pakistan and Afghanistan have been blaming each other over the last few years for interference in their domestic affairs and promoting violence in their countries. India has also invested heavily into Afghanistan during this time, seeing it as an opportunity to win a friend on Pakistan’s western borders to further pressurise Pakistan.

During this time, India lavishly provided support for Afghanistan Cricket including letting ACB use the Noida stadium just outside the Delhi NCR as Afghan’s team’s home ground — shifting from Sharjah. It was during this time that the statements from ACB started to change. From lavishly praising Pakistan for all the support they had received over the course of more than a decade, there was a constant trend of belittling Pakistan’s support and inciting hyper-nationalism in the Afghan fan base.

Last year, ACB’s CEO Shafiq Stanikzai, in an interview with Times of India said that

BCCI’s role has really been immense. Since we moved to India the team has done well. The conditions in India are suiting the team wuite well. The support we receive from BCCI has been instrumental.

On another occasion, he told the reporters that:

India has done more for Afghanistan Cricket than Pakistan.

In the backdrop of this, the Afghans took a decisive decision in late 2017 when they cut their Cricketing ties with Pakistan and moved closer to India. Pakistan Cricket Board under the then Chairman Shehryar Khan had arranged for Afghanistan to play their debut test with Pakistan, but the ACB backed out last minute and opted to play against India. The ACB took to social media and added:

“The ACB hereby cancel all kinds of cricket matches and initial mutual relationship agreement with the Pakistan Cricket Board. No agreement of friendly matches and mutual relationship agreement is possible with a country where terrorists are housed and provided safe havens.”

The rise of the Afghan national cricket team is an example of how to address tough international challenges — and I hope this journey is just the start of a new positive path for the people of Afghanistan. However, the line the ACB has taken for geopolitical reasons is mixing sports with politics, and using this to incite hatred and promoting a culture of jingoism within their Cricketing fanbase. This is a recipe for disaster!

The story of Afghanistan Cricket could have been a great success story to bring Pakistan and Afghanistan together considering Afghan Cricket is literally a product of Pakistan. Unfortunately, geopolitics and narrative of jingoism seems to win again.

blogger, technologist, foodie, vagabond, avid reader, cricket-lover, and an activist focused on human rights and the case for the environment.

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