How cricket fever swept Afghanistan

The Independent

On the eve of a new film about the sport that inspired a shattered nation, Julius Cavendish reports from Kabul

Gunships growl above the city, Humvees roll by blasted buildings and a radio programme passes a dismal verdict on Afghanistan’s deepening troubles. In a car stuck in Kabul’s traffic, an impish-looking man gives his prognosis: “Everywhere there is fighting, you know,” Taj Malik says. “The solution of all the problems is – cricket!” And then he doesn’t so much laugh as gurgle with joy.

Mr Malik is the coach of the Afghan national team, and he has spent much of the last few years dragging his squad on a quixotic mission to qualify for the ICC World Cup. On the way, the group have given a country doing a brisk trade in bad news a real-life fairytale.

Tomorrow, a documentary about their rise, Out of the Ashes, will be premiered at the Edinburgh film festival. But while the film opens with Mr Malik’s paean to his beloved sport in a Kabul snarl-up, his team first grew in far less hospitable circumstances. Go back to the side’s early days and you’d have to travel to the refugee camps outside Peshawar, near Pakistan’s north-west frontier. It was on these stony, rubble-strewn plains that many of the players first picked up bat and ball. Even at an early age Malik was living and breathing the sport, playing truant to play cricket. Read the rest of this entry »

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In rare victory for Afghanistan, cricket team qualifies for ICC World Twenty20

Christian Science Monitor

Afghanistan’s cricket team, the ultimate underdog, is competing with the world’s best at the ICC World Twenty20 opening today in Guyana. Afghanistan faces heavyweight India on Saturday.

KABUL, AFGHANISTAN

Two years ago, Tim Albone began shooting a documentary about what seemed like a charmingly hopeless cause: the Afghan cricket team’s attempt to qualify for the cricket World Cup.

No matter that the best cricket facilities in war-torn Afghanistan were barely on a par with the baked earth strips where most of the players had learned the sport in Pakistani refugee camps.

They still haven’t made it to the World Cup, but the underdog team is lining up with the world’s best at another major international championship: the ICC World Twenty20 in Guyana. The 12-nation tournament opens today, with Afghanistan facing off against heavyweight India on Saturday. The story represents a stark contrast from much of the grim news out of Afghanistan. Read the rest of this entry »