Afghanistan’s first-ever one-day international against Pakistan achieved what no other sport had managed — support from the once cricket-hating Taliban, an official said.
“Friday’s match was a big milestone for Afghanistan, so much so that the Taliban sent a message of support, saying they are praying for the success of the team,” said Omar Zakhilwal, president Afghanistan Cricket Board.
Although Afghanistan lost by seven wickets in the first-ever one-dayer against Pakistan, they gave a good account of themselves, scoring 195 and then capturing three early wickets.
Cricket has become the top sport in the war-ravaged country in the last three years after it was introduced by youths who learnt the game in refugee camps in Pakistan following the Soviet invasion of their country in 1979. Under the Taliban regime no outdoor sport was allowed and grounds were primarily used for executing political
opponents who defied the hardliners.
But since the ouster of the Taliban cricket has taken root with Afghanistan winning one-day status in 2009. Zakhilwal, also the finance minister in the Hamid Karzai-led government, said cricket is uniting the nation. “On streets you can see kids playing, there is no other sport which mobilises the people, neither politics nor any other event, neither the reconstruction, there is nothing which can match cricket,” he said.
Pakistan captain Misbah-ul Haq praised the team’s fighting spirit. “They can give a tough time to Zimbabwe, Bangladesh and even to better teams. It is all about experience,” he said.