How many managers of junior cricket teams receive email from the president of their country asking how the cricket was going? Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan supremo, sent a missive to his team on the eve of their match against India assuring them that he would be up at 3a.m., in front of his television at home in Kabul, to watch the team in action.
In one sense, that’s not terribly surprising, for this is the first time a game of any Afghan cricket team will be telecast live on television.
“Most of the boys spent the morning at salons, getting haircuts and shaves. I had to ask them if they thought they were going to play a match or take part in a fashion show,” Sayed Shah Saleemzai, manager of the team, explained, only half in jest.
“What’s happening back home is unbelievable. Even the most orthodox people are pressurising cable operators to provide connections urgently.”
The match against India is a particularly big one for the Afghans, for they cannot escape the feeling that their powerful neighbour has not done enough to help them in their journey in cricket.
After they were granted ODI status for their strong performances in the lower divisions of the ICC’s World Cricket League, Afghanistan hoped to get some international exposure, but this was not forthcoming.
“When I was CEO of the Afghan cricket board, I wrote to Sharad Pawar several times. But I never got a reply,” explains Saleemzai.
“We don’t blame any team for not coming to our country, because the security situation is what it is, but if a cricketing superpower like India invited us for some matches, it would make a huge difference.”
When the Afghans wanted to hold their pre-World Cup camp in India, they were again met with stony silence, and eventually had to make last minute arrangements in Sri Lanka.
“Around the world, millions are spent in marketing the game. But what will really make a difference is televised matches. If Afghans, both at home and abroad, can watch their team on TV, they will take to the game and support it,” says Saleemzai.
For many junior teams, like South Africa or England or Australia, there’s nothing particularly special about these matches.
But for Afghanistan, every event assumes extra significance, and they know that a strong showing against India could change their fortunes dramatically.
“We would like to prove a point,” says Saleemzai. “If you think this match is important, you should have seen how pumped up the boys were in the match against USA during the qualifying tournament in Canada last year.”
The United States of America’s war on terror in Afghanistan, causing widespread civilian deaths and destruction of property, gave new meaning to the term grudge match.
In the event Afghanistan thumped USA giving sport a chance to provide its limited alleviation to life’s suffering.
With pleas and letters to the Indian board falling on deaf ears, Afghanistan are hoping they can send a message on the field.