When you ask a cricketer what problems he faces, the answer is usually something about a faulty backlift or an inability to turn the ball as much as he’d like. “When I leave home to go and play, I don’t know if I will come back alive,” says Noor-ul-Haq, captain of the Afghanistan under-19 team, putting things in perspective.
For 15 young Afghans who will play against the best in the world, starting with India on Friday, this tournament is about much more than cricket. Haq, who’s known as “the Rock” in Asian Cricket Council circles for his batting, fled Afghanistan when he was only six-year old, and lived in Peshawar as a refugee. The journey has been a long one for Haq and his band of brothers.
Initially, cricket was played only by refugees, back from Pakistan and India where they had picked up the game. It was only in 2004 that a cricket ball was first used in Kabul, with matches that came before were played with a taped-up tennis ball. There wasn’t a pitch around, or anyone who knew anything about preparing one, so the boys nailed a carped in the middle of the ground and got going.
“Even now there are no facilities outside Kabul. The fighting is so intense in the provinces that no one can think of playing cricket,” says Haq.
In that light, this tournament is of utmost importance to the team. “You’ve all heard about the wars in Afghanistan, the fighting, the killing, the suicide bombers, but nobody has heard about the cricket we play,” says Haq. “There’s hidden talent, almost no facilities and we have just our natural talent and our daily struggles to rely on. We want to show the world this talent.”
Having lived in Pakistan, and fallen in love with cricket there, you’d expect Haq’s heroes to be Pakistani. “If I could watch just one player that would be Sachin Tendulkar. That’s what I tell myself and the team — if we struggle hard and improve, then maybe one day we can play against great cricketers like Sachin.”
That is still a distant dream for these boys, but for a cricket team that barely has a country to call home, this is enough motivation.