DNA Explainer: Uncertainties that Taliban's rule brings for Afghanistan's budding cricketers

During the conflict, the Afghan refugees in Pakistan picked up the sport and when they returned back to their country they brought the game along.

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(Image Source: Twitter@T20WorldCup)

"I appeal to the leaders of the world; please don't let Afghanistan go into chaos." "We need your support. We want peace." The former Afghan national cricket captain Mohammad Nabi tweeted these lines in distress just days before the fall of Kabul.

But it seems no one heard his desperation and days after the tweet, his beloved country had already gone into the hands of the Taliban putting the fate of Afghan cricket in jeopardy. In a poverty-stricken but cricket-mad country the players of the national team are finding it increasingly difficult to focus on the game.

The calm of the empty international cricket stadium in Kabul is a sharp contrast to the chaos taking place a few kilometres north, where tens of thousands of Afghans at the Hamid Karzai International airport are desperately trying to flee on evacuation flights.

The fear in the eyes of the players are real as the first political stint of the Taliban is afresh in the minds of the Afghan citizens. For the Taliban who strictly follow the Sharia Law, any source of entertainment is 'haram' - from watching movies and going to theatres, from listening to music or playing any type of sports. However, they were not against the English sport cricket which was quite popular among the Taliban fighters.

It was until the early 2000s, that the Afghans were first introduced to this sport. During the conflict in Afghanistan, the Afghan refugees in Pakistan picked up the sport and when they returned back to their country they brought the sport along with them.

Since then there has been no looking back for the national cricket team that rose on the international scene, gaining coveted Test status in 2017 and now ranked among the top 10 sides in the world in the one-day and Twenty20 formats. It also helped in uniting a country caught between civil war and ethnic conflict.

So the question arises as to whether the fate of Afghan cricket will go the same way as Zimbabwe cricket had to face years ago after a decline in the political and economic circumstances of the country? Only time will tell that. But here we try to analyse what the Taliban is saying about cricket in the country and what happened in Zimbabwe a decade back.

Taliban promises support to Afghanistan cricket

Taliban say Afghans started playing cricket when they ruled previously and that they will support the sport going forward. 

Anas Haqqani, a member of the Taliban's political office recently met the national cricket team captain Hashmatullah Shahidi, former cricket board selection committee chairman Asadullah and Noor Ali Zadran.

During the meeting, Haqqani who is also a member of the negotiating team for the Taliban reassured the cricket sector and pledged to assess cricketers' problems immediately.

During the meeting, the players thanked Anas Haqqani and his delegation and expressed their hope for support from the Taliban.

Earlier, Taliban spokesperson Sohail Shaheen also expressed support for the cricket team and said he hoped to watch the planned Afghanistan-Pakistan matches.

The fate of Zimbabwe Cricket 

There was the mass migration of the minority white population of Zimbabwe under the regime of Robert Mugabe, who came to power after his political struggle.

Mugabe implemented land reforms in 2000, which resulted in the seizing of 80% of white-owned farms from landowners forcing thousands of evictions and arrests.

It was against this political backdrop that Zimbabwean cricket's precise moment of disintegration occurred by 2003, for a team that was rising in the field of cricket

Henry Olonga and Andy Flower had to face the brunt for wearing the black armbands during a match to 'mourn the death of democracy in Zimbabwe'.

On July 19, 2019, the International Cricket Council (ICC) had suspended Zimbabwe Cricket because of government interference in their cricketing affairs.

Funding to Zimbabwe Cricket was frozen and was barred from taking part in any upcoming ICC events.

The ban possibly closed one of cricket's glorious chapters, in which a team rose through the ranks to emerge as a force to reckon with and make their mark on the map of world cricket.

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