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In war and in peace, passion for cricket alive and well in Afghanistan

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By Gibran Naiyyar Peshimam

KABUL (Reuters) – Khushhal has been fighting for the Taliban since he was 13, but now that they have won the war against the former government, he has more time to play cricket and support the Afghan national team as they start their T20 World Cup campaign on Monday.

“We fought for Islam and the Quran, but we also paid attention to cricket,” Khushhal, 18, told Reuters in the public grounds of Chaman-e-Huzoori, where he was playing in one of dozens of ongoing matches. on Friday, a public holiday in Afghanistan.

“By the grace of Allah, victory has come,” he said, adding that he can now enjoy the game he loves so much in peace.

While the Taliban frown upon many forms of public entertainment, cricket has always been an exception, with game fighters following closely even during the war when the Afghan national team played.

The team has given many in the country cause for optimism. Players like spin bowler Rashid Khan or batter Mohammad Nabi have become big stars of the Indian Premier League (IPL), the epitome of the game’s dynamic shorter form.

The squad opens the campaign with a game against Scotland before taking on bigger neighbor Pakistan on Friday.

“I really like cricket…I can’t tell you,” said Khushhal, who cannot hide his passion for the game even when speaking of the Taliban’s victory.

The optimism contrasts sharply with the generally bleak outlook for the country, which finds itself in a severe economic crisis as a harsh winter approaches. But he is not the only one looking forward to the Afghan national team’s World Cup campaign.

“The match we are eagerly awaiting is Pakistan v Afghanistan,” said Farmanullah Shinwari, 24, of the eastern province of Nangarhar on the border with Pakistan. “We want Pakistan to lose.”

The huge cricket ground in central Kabul, near the offices of the Afghanistan Cricket Board, is in disrepair. But neither that nor the biting wind has stopped the weekly competitions, which have continued amid the unrest following the Taliban victory in August.

Noorullah, who traveled to the Chaman-e-Huzoori site from Laghman province outside Kabul, says he predicts better performance from the Afghan national team for 2021 than at the last T20 World Cup in 2016, when it reached the knockout round. not reached. finish ninth.

“They will, Allah willing, reach the semi-finals or finals,” he predicted.

(Reporting by Gibran Peshimam; editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman)

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