Nation’s hopes rest on the shoulders of fledging Afghan cricket team in first Test match
When Afghanistan takes to the field in Bangalore, India, today for its first test match, far more than the outcome of the game is at stake for the fledgling cricket team.
- Cricket first picked up by Afghans who fled to Pakistan after the Soviet invasion
- The Taliban banned the game and extremists have targeted matches
- There are hopes the test match will be a unifying moment for the country
As can sometimes be the case, the game of cricket will be a vehicle for something far greater than itself.
For a nation riven by generations of conflict and war, playing test cricket on the international stage is a welcome opportunity for Afghanistan to unite behind a common cause.
It is often said that the notion of Afghanistan as a country is a foreign idea imposed arbitrarily upon a collection of tribes that have no notion of nationhood.
But a nation by name it is, and sport — especially cricket — can be a unifying force.
"It's a fairytale for the Afghan team," said cricket journalist and historian Boria Majumdar.
"It demonstrates what sport can do and is capable of.
"That it is a means of life, can provide salve for a troubled nation and provide people's existence with a new meaning.
"For the game, it is a moment of reckoning. It opens up a new market and at a time when test cricket is struggling, Afghanistan can surely give it a new fillip."
Afghanistan's debut as a test nation will be celebrated by cricket fans the world over, and the ICC will hope it injects new flourish and excitement into the format.
Awarded full member status alongside Ireland in June last year, Afghanistan is from today the world's 12th Test-playing nation.
Cricket is relatively new in Afghanistan — it was picked up by refugees who fled to Pakistan during the Soviet invasion.
Despite being banned by the Taliban and condemned by religious extremists — terrorists bombed a community game of cricket in Jalalabad in May, killing eight and injuring dozens — a young generation of cricket stars has emerged from the troubled nation.
Nineteen-year-old leg spinner Rashid Khan is already a hero among his countrymen, the youngster playing in the lucrative Indian Premier League this year.
Can the Afghan team bring a competitive game?
"I for one expect a fight," said Majumdar.
"The spinners are world-class and they will challenge the Indian batsmen.
"The issue is can the Afghan batsmen adjust to the rigours of the five-day game? That's what will decide how competitive they can or will be."
Former England skipper Kevin Pietersen addressed the team at a dinner last week.
"You guys are sitting on the very edge of history," he said.
"The doom-mongers say this is a dying form of the game, but you have it within your grasp to keep it alive.
"I have every faith that at some stage during the game one of you will lift your bat — or the ball — up high.
"Not just to acknowledge the applause for your personal achievement, but more significantly, to pinpoint that moment when all your hard work, the sacrifices you have made and the expectations of others that you have carried on your shoulders have borne fruit."