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Posted at: Jun 13, 2018, 8:20 PM; last updated: Jun 13, 2018, 10:32 PM (IST)

India-Afghan test: A celebration of ties

India-Afghan test: A celebration of ties
Afghanistan test cricket team captain Asghar Stanikzai (C) gestures towards a teammate while Mohammed Nabi (L) looks on during the team's practice session at the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore on June 13, 2018. AFP

Smita Sharma
Tribune News Service  
New Delhi, June 13

Afghanistan is all geared up to face a mighty Indian side at the first cricket test match in Bengaluru starting Thursday, the first test challenge to captain Asghar Stanikzai’s leadership since Afghanistan achieved the status of a test playing nation last year. 

This might be the first official test match for the men, many of who grew up in refugee camps in Pakistan in the 80s and 90s when their families fled war torn Afghanistan. But Afghan cricketers have already won hearts in India. Payers like 19-year-old spinner Rashid Khan and 33-year-old batsman and off-break bowler Mohammed Nabi have become showstoppers with their Indian Premier League performances.

In what symbolises close Delhi-Kabul ties, Afghan cricketers are today courted for IPL, while Pakistani cricketers remain a pariah.

Interestingly in 2017, when Khan and Nabi were back in Kabul after Sunrisers Hyderabad could not sail through the finals, the duo were invited to watch the match on a big screen at the Indian Embassy along with Afghan Cricket Board officials. The driveway at then Indian ambassador Manpreet Vohra’s residence was converted into a cricket pitch. And despite having become household names, Khan and Nabi happily batted and bowled when requested.

“The superb talent and new generation of exciting Afghan cricketers is raising levels of achievement and competition even in the IPL. Superstar afghan cricketers are wonderful new and positive role models in their country,” Manpreet Vohra, Additional Secretary in MEA and former envoy to Kabul told The Tribune.  

Incidentally India has played a significant role in promoting cricket in Afghanistan since 2001 when the conflict-ridden country joined the ICC (International Cricket Council). Owing to terror strikes and security conditions in the country, Greater Noida has been its homeground since 2015 for the Afghan cricket team, which had been trained by Indian coaches in their formative years. Meanwhile, India built cricket stadiums and grounds in Afghanistan—the Kandahar stadium for instance cost of one million dollar and was inaugurated earlier this year.

“Cricket brings much needed joy to Afghanistan, where many of the players have grown up in poverty and conflict. It is a unifying game in a country torn by terror. India is happy to play a role in promoting cricket in Afghanistan,” Vohra added. 

In Rashid Khan’s home town of Jalalabad, a terror strike during a cricket match last month killed eight people and wounded more than 40—driving home the brutal reality on the ground. But their spirits undying, resilient Afghans will cheer for their team as it faces Virat Kohli’s men and India will be happy to see cricket cement bilateral ties further. 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi called cricket the “unifying force” in Afghanistan.

“These achievements have come about in challenging and difficult circumstances. This demonstrates the indomitable Afghan spirit to overcome all challenges and realize aspirations for a prosperous, stable, united and peaceful nation. Today cricket is a unifying force for the people of Afghanistan.”

“India takes pride in being shoulder-to-shoulder with Afghanistan in this journey. It is an honour for India to host the Afghan national team at home grounds in Greater Noida and Dehradun. The people of India have shared the joy of millions of Afghans at the success of their players in tournaments and elsewhere.” 

 

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