Why Afghans are ‘The Dark Horse’ in Sports

A recent article in the UAE called Afghan cricketers the ‘Dark Horse’ which can threaten any of title holders in both formats of the game.

 

The world outside Afghanistan does not hear much good news about Afghans. News on violent incidents, a murky insurgent war, and women’s rights usually make headlines across popular global media outlets. However, there are lots of positive things happening in this beautiful Central Asian country that the outside world may not know.

Among others, sports are flourishing in the country; its national players are making headlines for achievements that stun many. Football (soccer) and cricket are two sports where Afghans have proven their worth.

Afghanistan as the South Asian Soccer Champs

Not long ago, Afghanistan’s national football team was in disarray. Under the Taliban, football was banned as it did not fit well with their political agenda. Afghan youth could not imagine playing the game again in Afghanistan.

However, after the new government in 2002, Afghan soccer players re-entered the Ghazi soccer stadium in Kabul, used for prosecution just a few years ago. In less than a decade, Afghanistan went on to beat regional giants. On December 11, 2011, Afghanistan played in the final with India and lost due to a biased umpire. However, on September 11, 2013, the Afghan national team beat India in the South Asian Football Champions final to become the football champions in the region.

Watching the game live on TVs in Kabul, emotions were high among the diverse Afghan nation. Cheers and prayers accompanied every minute of the final game. Afghanistan remained undefeated in the tournament of the South Asian countries and went on to win the championship. Celebrations in Kabul were unusual. It was the first time in Afghan history that all Afghans cheered in jubilation of their national prestige. Thousands stormed out to the streets of Kabul to make it a lively event. Under the beautiful and colorful flag of Afghanistan, Afghans cheered praises of their country in unison.

Afghans Stunning the World in Cricket

Afghan cricket is another amazing story. Nearly 10 years ago, cricket did not exist in Afghanistan. Only those Afghans who had lived in Pakistan had learned it, and had practiced playing with a tennis ball wrapped in white scotch tape. Afghan refugees would come out to playgrounds in burning heat in Pakistani towns to play and enjoy the sports. In many instances, they would win from the local Pakistani teams in Pakistan.

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After the Karzai government in Afghanistan, some of those Afghans returned to Afghanistan. They formed an amateur cricket team to practice the game in country. Despite minimum equipment, training and facilities, it wasn’t long until they began crushing  international teams outside their home country.

Now, the Afghan national team has not only qualified for the international world cups with the One Day International (ODI) and the newer format T20 versions of the game; they are also winning at the under 19 level and winning big.  Most recently, the Afghan under-19 national team has beaten cricket giants such as Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Australia (teams like Brazil in soccer) and is in the quarter finals of the ICC World Cup to be played this week.

The Afghan national cricket team is also a success story. They are now in Sri Lanka preparing for the Asia Cup, a regional competition including Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. The team is also preparing for the upcoming ICC T20 World Cup as well as the ICC ODI World Cup tournaments to be played later this year. They are expected to surprise viewers.

Afghan cricket players are described as ruthless and aggressive. They win big and win with style. A recent commentary in the United Arab Emirates called them the “Dark Horse” which can threaten any of title holders in both formats of the game.

As Afghan youth have proven themselves in the soccer and cricket fields, they are also committed to making Afghanistan a leading nation both in the region and abroad. And they can do so.

With keeping the sports a-political, open to more Afghans, and provided with the right resources and attention both from the Afghan government and internationals, it can continue to play a more successful role in further pacifying and uniting a nation that has been too long devastated by war and conflict.

Moheb Arsalan J. is an Afghan analyst and commentator on governance, conflict, and socioeconomic development affairs in the Af-Pak region. Moheb studied Economics in New York and Kabul University as a Fulbright scholar and holds a Masters in Governance and Public Policy from Willy Brandt School in Germany. He is based in Kabul and can be reached at arsalan.moheb@gmail.comFollow him on Google+. Read other articles by Moheb.