Cricket Wins Bring Happiness to a Battered Afghanistan

With the victory against Sri Lanka, Afghanistan has jumped to 5th in the rankings—lifting hopes for their first semi-final spot ever in the ICC Cricket World Cup.

Afghanistan beat Sri Lanka by seven wickets in a thrilling match on Monday in Pune, India, which came after the earlier historic wins over defending champions England and Pakistan.

Former batter Abhishek Jhunjhunwala said that the Afghanistan team finished “the job quietly, calmly and in style.”

The Cricket team is among several sports teams that have remained intact after the Taliban’s return to power in 2021 which disrupted much of ordinary life for the country’s institutions, including sports. Many in Afghanistan and abroad saw the wins as the few threads the country could draw a little happiness from in the midst of destitution, particularly the devastating earthquakes in Herat that killed thousands and the mass deportation of nearly 1.7 million Afghan refugees from Pakistan.

Afghanistan captain Shahidi said he was glad and proud of the team. “I thought we performed well in all three departments. The [win against] Pakistan game gave us a lot of confidence that we can chase down any kind of target.”

Afghanistan marked a first-ever historic victory against Pakistan in One Day International (ODI) last week. Fans erupted in joy celebrating it on the streets in Kabul, Khost, Kandahar, and Nangarhar, where cricket is most cherished, and abroad among the country’s expanding diaspora.

Superstar cricketer Rashid Khan said there is “no better feeling than this [win].” He thanked India for their support, saying they offered the “energy” in its victory against Pakistan—remarks which infuriated many Pakistani cricketers and fans.

Opening batsman Ibrahim Zadran, whose top score of 87 landed him Player of the Match Award, dedicated the victory to “people who are sent from Pakistan back home to Afghanistan.” Zadran’s remark referred to Pakistan’s mass deportation scheme of undocumented refugees from Afghanistan after the November 1 deadline.

In reaction, Pakistan’s Caretaker Prime Minister said that if Pakistan had won the match, he would ask them to dedicate the victory to “those security forces who would be expelling Afghan refugees back to their country.”

Earlier that week, Afghanistan marked a huge upset in the Cricket World Cup after beating the defending champions England, which Indian legendary batsman Sachin Tendulkar said indicated “the emergence of a new Afghanistan team.”

Congratulatory messages even came from the ruling Taliban who have significantly restricted or banned sports and other forms of entertainment, particularly targeting women athletes and spectators.

Anas Haqqani, brother and a senior advisor to the interior minister Sirajuddin Haqqani, and Mawlavi Abdul Kabir, one of Taliban’s deputies to the prime minister were among the officials who came out with congratulatory notes.

Last year, the cricket team caused wide controversy after meeting with Sirajuddin Haqqani, leader of the notorious Haqqani network. Many criticized the players’ pictures with smiling faces with one of the regime’s most consequential leaders as it curtailed women’s participation in public life, particularly in education and sports.

The cricket team, like many other sports teams that play on behalf of Afghanistan in world tournaments, carries the republican flag instead of the Taliban Emirate’s white flag. The gesture receives admiration from many on social media who find it reminiscent of a collective experiment and a way of life in the country that has rapidly faded away under the Taliban.

The team has three remaining fixtures against Netherlands, Australia, and South Africa in the coming two weeks which will determine if the squad can hold their semi-final credentials.