“Mubarak, Mubarak, Congratulations!” A mate of mine in London, who hadn’t contacted me for ages, texted me in the wee hours of Tuesday morning. What personal or professional achievement could this celebration be for?
Still in bed, half asleep, I heard one of my housemates’ elated laughter and chatter on the phone. What is going on? I thought.
I had a quick shower and was heading towards the office when I learned about Afghanistan’s phenomenal cricket victory against Pakistan, with the news dominating my socials.
Unbelievable! I was eager to catch up on all the highlights, statistics and of course the post-match gossip and drama, but I was still curious about the text from London, so I replied and asked what it was about. “For the win in the cricket,” he immediately replied. “We were so excited that even forgot to mention the reason.”
This was getting even better! I missed one train while walking slowly towards the station, scrolling, texting, smiling. My early morning train ride had never felt so fun – everything looked so lovely!
“Hey mate, hearing about Afghanistan’s success in cricket, I immediately thought of you. Hope you’re doing well and able to enjoy the wins!” an Aussie friend from work texted.
“Omg Shadi, Afghanistan won!!” said another mate from Melbourne.
“Mubarak, Mubarak,” texted the housemate who had apparently seen the whole game overnight before heading straight to his factory job.
As the day progressed, and when I saw the highlights of how excellent the Afghans had performed on the pitch against Pakistan in India, I got a new kind of humble confidence. On the face of it this was just a group stage Cricket World Cup victory that didn’t guarantee progress towards lifting the trophy. But it was Afghanistan’s first ever ODI win over Pakistan and it followed a stunning upset against the defending champions England – so it meant a lot to Afghans around the world.
The team’s phenomenal performance has lifted up not just the devastated nation but millions in the Afghan diaspora, including in Australia. At Dandenong Park in Melbourne’s south-east, hundreds joined in on the traditional Attan dance to mark the victory. The scenes in Kabul and other cities in Afghanistan were equally charged with joy and celebration.
Amid international isolation, Afghanistan’s cricket team has once again proved itself as the only source for the Afghans to connect with the outer world. Afghanistan’s tri-colour flag – now replaced with the white Taliban flag – and the Republic-era anthem are still kept alive by the cricketers on the world stage. It is arguably the only source of joy for millions reeling from a humanitarian crisis under a hardline regime and international sanctions and isolation.
The Afghanistan star bowler Rashid Khan has been campaigning tirelessly for the victims of a recent earthquake that killed and displaced thousands of people in the country’s western Herat province. Ibrahim Zadran, the man of the match in the last match, dedicated his award to the recently deported Afghan refugees from Pakistan.
These are some of the examples of what these cricketers are going through emotionally before competing against top opponents on the world stage.
There is another Australian connection to this story, too.
Rashid will be here later this year to play in the Big Bash League. But he was clearly upset by Cricket Australia’s decision earlier this year to cancel a planned three-match series against Afghanistan in the United Arab Emirates, citing the Taliban’s ban on university education for girls in Afghanistan.
In a tweet to the accounts of Cricket Australia, the BBL and ACB officials, Rashid had said: “Cricket! The only hope for the country. Keep politics out of it.”
As my train passed through Richmond station near the magnificent MCG, I thought why can’t Australia reschedule the series and take the opportunity to give voice for Afghan women and girls, instead of abandoning this opportunity altogether?