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Afghan passion for cricket blossoming

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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 started their T20 World Cup campaign yesterday.

We fought for Islam and the Quran, but we also paid attention to cricket, said Khushhal, 18, on the public grounds of Chaman-e-Huzoori, where he played in one of the dozen matches going on Friday, a public vacation 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.

Photo: Reuters

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 such as spin bowler Rashid Khan or great batter Mohammad Nabi have become big stars of the Indian Premier League, the epitome of the game’s dynamic shorter form.

The team starts with a game against Scotland and will face bigger neighbor Pakistan on Friday.

I really like cricket… I can’t tell you, Khushhal said, unable to hide his passion for the game, even though he talks about 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. He is not the only one looking forward to the Afghan national teams’ 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. Neither that nor the biting winds have stopped the weekly competitions, which continued in the turmoil following the Taliban victory in August.

Noorullah, who traveled to the Chaman-e-Huzoori site from Laghman province outside Kabul, said he predicts a better performance for the Afghan national team than in the last T20 World Cup in 2016, when it won the knockout outround and finished ninth.

They will reach the semi-finals or finals, Allah willing, he said.

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