In 2010, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton led off her remarks with Afghan president Hamid Karzai in a press conference in Kabul by pointing to cricket as a model for Afghanistan’s reemergence. “I might suggest that if we are searching for a model of how to meet tough international challenges with skill, dedication and teamwork, we need only look to the Afghan national cricket team. For those of you who don’t follow cricket, which is most of the Americans, suffice it to say that Afghanistan did not even have a cricket team a decade ago. And last month, the team made it to the World Twenty20 championships featuring the best teams in the world.”[i]
In 2008, I was watching TV at my home in Kandahar; the breaking news came in as Rohulla Nikpai became the first medalist in Afghanistan in any Olympic sports. Tears of joy started pouring down on my cheeks all the while having never heard his name before. “Rohullah Nikpai competed in the 58 kg category of Taekwondo at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, defeating two-time world champion Juan Antonio Ramos of Spain to win the bronze medal. In the 2012 Summer Olympics, Rohullah entered the 68 kg category, where he won the bronze medal at the Olympic Games after defeating Martin Stamper of Great Britain.”[ii] Nesar Ahmad Bahavi, Rohullah and few other athletes who were competing in the world stage for Afghanistan prestige, Afghanistan between 2008-2012 was ranked 7th in the world. Nesar won the silver medal in the lightweight category (72 kg) at the 2007 World Taekwondo Championships, edging out 2004 Olympic Champion Hadi Saei in the semifinals. It was the second international medal for Afghanistan in any sport – the first was one by Badamgul Multazim, a heavyweight Taekwondo practitioner.[iii] Nesar won tens of medals for Afghanistan and reached semi-final in the 2012 London Olympics. Both of these athletes are national icons. In 2014, Rohullah had invited myself and a friend, Maroof, for a meal at his new house in Kabul that was awarded to him by the president.
BBC Afghan cricket long time follower Emal writes in his book (The Afghan Cricket History) “In 2006 Raees Ahmadzai the former Afghan Cricket Team captain came to my office with a paper that contains the information about matches and divisions if Afghanistan wins certain matches in divisions 5,4,3,2 and secure a place in top 4 in division 1 it will qualify for the (2011 One Day International World Cup Championship). Three years later Afghanistan has secured fifth place in division one”.[iv] But Afghanistan has already qualified for 2010 T20 World Cup. After 8 years of Clinton’s remarks Afghanistan cricket team had become full member of ICC and received test status, it ranks 10th in ODI and rank 7th in T20 in the world. In 2010, former Afghan president Hamid Karzai said in a meeting at the Presidential Palace with tribal elders “Wherever I go outside of Afghanistan leaders across the globe congratulates me on our cricket success”.[v]
Since then Afghanistan has produced the most surprising players in the history of cricket and the most surprising package is 19 year old Rashid Khan followed by Mohammad Nabi, Mujeeb Rahman and Hazratullah Zazai. Rashid took the best bowling figures for an associate nation in a (ODI) match, currently he is the youngest player to top the ICC Player Rankings for bowlers in ODIs, ICC Player Rankings for bowlers in Twenty20 Internationals and he is the number one player in the ICC’s all-rounder rankings. He holds the title of the youngest player to captain an international side at the age of 19. Khan became the fastest and youngest bowler to take 100 wickets in ODIs. He took 44 matches to take his 100th dismissal, breaking the previous record of 52 matches, set by Mitchell Starc of Australia. In June 2018, he became the fastest bowler, in terms of time, to take 50 wickets in T20Is. He reached the milestone in two years and 220 days, in the first T20I against Bangladesh. Currently, Rashid Khan is the most valuable cricket player on the planet, simultaneously holding contracts with 8 franchises across the globe and he has been picked in the Indian Premier League by (Sunrisers Hyderabad) for 1.4 million USD for a 45 day tournament.[vi]
Along with Rashid Khan, Mohammad Nabi who is also playing in all big franchises across the globe is ranked 2nd in ODIs all-rounder in the world. In Afghanistan Premier League in Dubai, on 14 October 2018, in the match against Balkh Legends, Hazratullah Zazai hit six sixes in one over, a record that was previously held by 6 elite players of cricket in the history. In the process, Zazai also tied the record for the fastest fifty in Twenty20 cricket, from twelve balls. Mujeeb Ur Rahman is the first male to play international cricket that was born in the 21st century. Two months after his international debut, at the age of 16 years old and 325 days, he became the youngest player to take a five-wicket haul in a One Day International match. On April 8th 2018, at the age of 17 years and 11 days, he became the youngest cricketer to play in the Indian Premier League and he has also picked up by each single known franchises around the world.[vii]
Afghanistan is rising as a nation of sports and the sports help Afghans unite at home and abroad and bring revenue, thus, show a positive image of the country to the world. There may be not a single event in sports on the planet where Afghans players are not competing in. Afghanistan Chief Executive Dr. Abdullah said; in a press conference whenever I get home, my son tells me how many runs Mohammad Nabi scored in the Indian Premier League. Rashid Khan said in an interview “Afghan Players make more money in a month in the Afghan Premier League than twelve years combine salary that they get from Afghan Cricket Board”. The sports positively identifies Afghanistan, wherever I go in North America or abroad, every UFC and cricket loving person knows Siyar Bahadurzada or Rashid Khan. As a fan of martial arts, my most favourite Afghan fighter is Siyar. He is known as (The Greatest) in the Mix Martial Arts world. He won 3 times (Shooto World Championships), and 1 time (Glory World Series Welterweight Champion). Siyar is the first Afghan to compete in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), he is in the top ten in UFC Welterweight division and currently, there are many Afghans who compete in UFC.[viii]
Two years ago Afghan MMA fighter Ahmad Wali Hotak challenged his Afghan MMA fighter Baz Mohammad; politicians had canceled the high stake fight reasoning that both fighters are the most respected athletes at home and abroad, that can harm nation’s unity. In September, 2018 when Afghan bodybuilding athlete Yasin Salik Qaderi won gold medal in (Pro League Global Classic Overall Champion) in Macau bodybuilding competition in China, he has presented his medal to the family of the slain Kandahar Police Commander General Raziq who is considered a national hero. Qaderi himself from Kabul told to the press (The reason that I am in Kandahar), to show solidarity with the bigger family of Kandahar and to show respect to our national hero.[ix] His action was applauded nationwide.
In September, 2018 when Afghanistan national soccer team won the SAFF Cup for First Time in History, defeating India 2-0, the team was given a hero’s welcome and they were received at Kabul airport by President Karzai.[x] One year later at the 2014 Ballon D’or ceremony, the Afghanistan Football Federation won the FIFA Fair Play Award. Afghanistan was honored with the award for the outstanding performance of the Afghanistan football during the year, despite the chaos of war and difficult political situations the country is facing.[xi] Afghanistan volleyball, basketball, boxing, weightlifting and others have reached great achievements in the last 16 years, and especially Afghanistan women cyclists and running teams worth mentioning. Tahmina Kohistani is the first Afghan and Muslim woman in history in a hijab to compete at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.[xii]
Rashid Khan rocked the 2018 Indian Premier League; the Indians fans took to twittering, requests Afghanistan to give him to us. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani tweet:
Indian Prime Minister Mr. Modi replied to Dr. Ghani’s tweet in his speech in India spoke for a duration of 3 minutes about Afghanistan and Indian cricket cooperation and the friendship the two nations enjoy. After ten years of Clinton’s remarks, John Bass U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan has invited Afghanistan Cricket Team for a breakfast to his residence days before their departure to India to participate in the 2018 Asian ODI Cup. He wished them good luck and learned to play cricket with Afghan National team players and has survived against Shapoor paced and Mujeeb spin balling but India, Sari Lanka and Bangladesh have not during the Asian Cup.[xiii] 2018 ended up for Afghanistan cricket team as Rashid number 1, Nabi 2 and Mujeeb 4 in the world and the Team directly qualified for 2020 T20 World Cup.
[i] Rogin, J. (2010, May 11). Clinton: Afghan progress being made, in cricket. Retrieved from https://foreignpolicy.com/2010/05/11/clinton-afghan-progress-being-made-in-cricket/
[ii] (“Rohullah Nikpai,” n.d.)
[iii] (“Nesar Ahmad Bahave,” n.d.)
[iv] Pasarly, E. (2018). The Afghan Cricket History.
[v] Noori, G (2010) Presidential Palace History.
[vi] (“Rashid Khan,” n.d.)
[vii] (“Mujeeb Ur Rahmadn,” n.d.)
[ix] Afghanistan’s Yasin Qaderi wins Gold Medal in Macau bodybuilding competition. (2018, Nov 25). Retrieved from https://www.khaama.com/afghanistans-yasin-qaderi-wins-gold-medal-in-macau-bodybuilding-competition-02815/
[x] Afghans welcome home heroic soccer team (2013, Sep 12). Retrieved from https://www.foxnews.com/world/afghans-welcome-home-heroic-soccer-team
[xi] Afghanistan Football Federation: FIFA Fair Play Award (2014, Jan 13). Retrieved from https://www.fifa.com/the-best-fifa-football-awards/videos/afghanistan-football-federation-fifa-fair-play-award-2260730
[xii] (“Tahmina Kohistani,” n.d.)https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tahmina_Kohistani
[xiii] U.S. Ambassador Learns to Play Cricket with Afghan National Cricket Team representatives (2018, April 30) retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/kabulpublicdiplomacy/28142953908
Ghulam Wali Noori is a former historian of former Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Political and Cultural Advisor of the United States Army and Canadian Forces in Afghanistan, Data Analyst for (UNHCR), Deputy of the Internal Affairs Department at National Security Council of Afghanistan and currently working as a financial analyst in Toronto, Canada. He is also a published translator and author of 13 books and a Political Sciences graduate from Carleton University.
Image courtesy of Wikimedia