The crack of bat on ball echoes round Kabul’s worldwide stadium as Afghanistan’s prime cricketers put together for his or her subsequent tour — simply days after the nation fell to the Taliban.
The calm of the empty stadium is a surreal distinction to scenes just some kilometres north, the place tens of 1000’s of Afghans at Kabul airport are desperately making an attempt to flee on evacuation flights.
Following the gorgeous victory of the hardliners, most of the gamers in cricket-mad Afghanistan’s beloved nationwide group are discovering it troublesome to deal with sport.
“The fear is there in their eyes, in their voices, even in their messages,” tempo bowler Naveen-ul-Haq stated of his teammates in Kabul throughout a BBC radio interview broadcast on the weekend.
“The Taliban have said (they) won’t be troubling any sportsman, but nobody knows,” added Haq, talking from the West Indies the place he performs within the Caribbean Premier League.
The Kabul International Cricket Ground is just some kilometres from the Afghan capital’s airport, the place tens of 1000’s are desperately making an attempt to flee on evacuation flights HOSHANG HASHIMI AFP
The return of the Taliban has sparked widespread fear in Afghanistan and within the worldwide neighborhood, reviving recollections of their brutal first stint in energy from 1996 to 2001 once they imposed a harsh model of Islamic regulation.
They banned most types of leisure — together with many sports activities — and stadiums doubled as public execution venues.
Sports the Taliban did permit have been strictly managed, and have been for just for males to play and watch.
They didn’t thoughts cricket, nonetheless, and the sport born centuries in the past on the taking part in fields of England is fashionable amongst Taliban fighters too.
Cricket was not among the many sports activities the Taliban banned throughout their first regime HOSHANG HASHIMI AFP
That has accomplished little to ease the fears of many gamers, for whom the autumn of the nation is about much more than the game.
“I appeal to the leaders of the world; please don’t let Afghanistan go into chaos,” former nationwide captain Mohammad Nabi tweeted days earlier than the autumn of Kabul, because the Taliban have been quickly capturing territory.
“We need your support. We want peace.”
‘More than a sport’
Cricket was barely recognized within the nation till the early 2000s, and its explosive rise in reputation was linked with battle — the game was picked up in Pakistan by Afghan refugees who then seeded it of their home nation.
But the nationwide group has loved a meteoric rise on the worldwide scene since then, gaining coveted Test standing in 2017 and now ranked among the many top-10 sides on the earth within the one-day and Twenty20 codecs.
Cricket’s reputation exploded in Afghanistan over the last 20 years HOSHANG HASHIMI AFP
In the final 20 years, it has additionally emerged as a strong image of nationwide unity in a rustic riven by civil conflict and ethnic battle.
“If you find positive news, if you see people happy together, it’s only cricket… that brings it to the country. It’s that important to Afghanistan,” Haq advised the BBC.
“It’s more than a game for Afghanistan’s people.”
That reference to nationwide id was seen on Afghanistan’s independence day — August 19, lower than per week after the autumn of Kabul.
Afghanistan’s cricket group has additionally emerged as a strong image of nationwide unity lately ADEK BERRY AFP/File
Afghan cricketers marked it by tweeting footage and emojis of the tri-colour nationwide flag, which the Taliban have changed with their white banner in areas underneath their management.
All-rounder Samiullah Shinwari had earlier tweeted a photograph with the date of the Taliban takeover of Kabul — August 15 — and the phrases: “The day Afghans lost their country and the whole world just watched.”
Difficult to focus
For the Afghan gamers presently exterior the nation, there are fears for his or her family members again home.
The household of Rashid Khan — Afghanistan’s greatest cricket star — cannot depart the nation, in keeping with former England star Kevin Pietersen, who spoke to him final week throughout a match in Britain.
Youths play cricket near the location of the Bamiyan Buddha statues, which have been destroyed by the Taliban in 2001 WAKIL KOHSAR AFP/File
“We had a long chat here on the boundary talking about it and (Khan) is worried: he can’t get his family out of Afghanistan,” Pietersen advised Sky Sports.
There are optimistic indicators. On Sunday, the Afghanistan Cricket Board tweeted footage of its newly reappointed chairman to point it could be enterprise as common.
Despite the uncertainty, Afghanistan’s cricket authorities have stated their upcoming sequence in opposition to Pakistan, to be performed in Sri Lanka, will go forward.
With no business flights working from Afghanistan, an official stated the group would drive to Pakistan and fly out from there.
Cricket was picked up in Pakistan by Afghan refugees who then seeded it of their home nation WAKIL KOHSAR AFP/File
But even for individuals who are in a position to play away from Afghanistan, corresponding to Naveen-ul-Haq within the West Indies, the pictures from home are troublesome to disregard.
“You forget about it for a minute or two to focus on cricket but it jumps into your mind again,” he advised the BBC.
“I can’t say that I will be fully focused on playing only cricket because you can’t when you see your country like that.”