When news emerged on April 14 that the US had dropped the biggest non-nuclear device dubbed The Mother of All Bombs in Afghanistan, many frantic calls were made to the country from Chandigarh, a study hub for many Afghan students.
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Among them was 27-year-old Shahqa Bisharat, who rang up his parents living in Badakhshan province. He was relieved they were fine and the target was a tunnel complex in the Nangarhar province used by the ISIS.
Like Shahqa, there are more than 350 Afghanis in Chandigarh, who live in constant fear over the well-being of their relatives in war-torn Afghanistan.
Afghan fans in Chandigarh
However, come Friday, they will be at the PCA Stadium in Mohali, cheering for two of their heroes, Rashid Khan and Mohammed Nabi, who will be in the Sunrisers Hyderabad squad that will face Kings XI Punjab in the Indian Premier League.
For these students, the stories of Rashid Khan and Mohammed Nabi can motivate and inspire the entire country.
“Afghanistan cricketers doing well in the IPL, it’s the greatest joy for all Afghanis. We feel so proud of them. Our country is reeling under tremendous trauma due to continuous combat, but when cricketers like Rashid and Nabi show what they are capable of in this IPL, it makes us our hearts swell with joy and pride,” said Shahqa, who studies political science at the Panjab University, Chandigarh, and lost his paternal uncle two years ago in a bombing.
The 18-year-old leg-spinner Rashid --- called “Afridi of Afghanistan” --- got the highest-ever bid for an Associate player in the 2017 IPL auctions. He was snapped up by Sunrisers Hyderabad for Rs 4 crore (US$ 597,000). Hailing from Nangarhar, Rashid has hogged the limelight with his googlies in the tournament and has been a revelation, claiming 10 scalps.
Seasoned all-rounder Nabi though was the first Afghanistan player to be picked at the auctions, at his base price of Rs 30 lakh.
Mosa Khan, 25, who also studies political science at Panjab University, and like Nabi hails from Loger province, said: “A large chunk of Afghanis are in India to pursue higher education. The infrastructure in our country has been declining. But Afghanistan’s surge in cricket has given hope to many.
“There are already a few cricket stadiums where youngsters hone their skills. In fact a huge stadium is getting built in Kabul with the help of BCCI. A friend of mine trained in Chandigarh a few years back while studying and now he is knocking on the doors of our national team in Afghanistan. People have posters of Nabi in their homes.”
Caught in a war
While Nabi has remained the backbone of the side that qualified for the World Twenty20 in 2010, 2012 and 2014, and the 2015 World Cup, Rashid has featured in 26 ODIs and 24 T20 internationals.
“Every family has suffered back in our country due to a constant war-like situation. There is no normalcy. And when our cricketers do well at the world stage or in the IPL, others too weave their dreams. Allah has blessed us with this, youngsters are now seeing these cricketers as role models,” said Zahid Aria, 26, from Panjshir province, a student of Indian Defence Studies.
Also a big fan of Virat Kohli, 23-year-old Wahid Ullah Aryan can’t wait to root for Sunrisers Hyderabad, and Rashid Khan and Nabi. “We watched Afghanistan’s matches in Mohali in 2016 during the World T20. Cricket has become a passion. Our community is excited to do that on Friday. Insha Allah, both will do well,” said Wahid.