By Zia Ur Rehman
KARACHI – Young Afghan cricketers are participating in a government-sponsored cricket tournament in Karachi. Afghan and Pakistani players agree that through sports they can help bring peace and combat terrorism in both countries.
The Dr. M.A. Shah Lephone Night Trophy 2010 tournament is being organised by the Ministry of Sports, Sindh government, and includes 16 teams. The matches take place on various grounds in Karachi, always at night.
Nine players from the Afghan Youth Cricket Association (AYCA) are on Afghanistan’s national team and were part of the country’s ICC Twenty20 squad in the West Indies earlier this year.
It is an honour for Afghan cricketers to play in an international tournament, Khaliq Dad Noori, captain of the AYCA and an Afghan national team player, said.
“The participation of Afghan cricketers in this tournament is a positive step not only for the development of cricket in Afghanistan; it also will strengthen the Pak-Afghan relationship,” Noori told Central Asia Online.
Cricket diverts youths’ attention from militancy
“We are trying our best to promote more and more cricket in Afghanistan … to divert our war-torn country’s youth from war and narcotics to cricket and a bright future for their homeland,” he added.
Samiullah Shinwari, another Afghan cricketer, said the sport is growing quickly in Afghanistan. Cricket can help repair his country’s image, he said.
“Cricket means more to the Afghan people than any other sport,” Shinwari said. Men, women, and many Afghan youth are now fans, he said.
Sindh Sports Minister Dr. Syed Mohammad Ali Shah thanked the Afghan team for its participation. Because of the bad law-and-order situation, international teams have been reluctant to play cricket in Pakistan.
“Teams from Sri Lanka and Hong Kong were also invited to the tournament, but they refused to come to Pakistan for security reasons,” Shah said.
“Foolproof security measures have been taken,” said Shah. Other facilities will be provided to the Afghan team during its stay in Karachi, he said.
Cricket strengthens international ties
Both countries are badly affected by terrorism, and the matches between the two nations can serve as a reminder to the people that they can fight terrorism together, he said. The team has received assistance from the Afghan government and the Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB), Noori said.”]
Shinwari took five wickets and two run outs August 29 as the Afghan team defeated Korangi Al-Falah and qualified for the quarter-finals of the tournament. The final is scheduled for September 6.
Many Afghan team members spent much of their early lives in refugee camps, fleeing from the Soviet invasion and subsequent civil war, and so learned the game in Pakistan.
“It is a pleasure for us that we are playing with Afghan players in the tournament, which will make the bilateral relationship stronger,” said Arshad Ali, a cricketer playing with Korangi CC, a local team.
Central Asia Online also has learnt that the ACB asked the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) to host a one-day series between the two countries’ teams in October, but the PCB rejected the proposal, citing its team’s busy schedule. Senior Pakistani cricketers criticised the refusal. The PCB must support Afghanistan as it makes inroads into international cricket, former International Cricket Council (ICC) president Ehsan Mani said.
“It is our responsibility to help them because we should make our region strong,” he said.
A one-day series would help strengthen co-operation between the countries, Shah said.
“Afghan cricketers will come again to Karachi in the next six months for another tournament, and we will try our best to provide them all the facilities and training for cricket they need,” Shah said.
(AYCA has won the final of the tournament on Sep 6 by 6 wickets and 61 runs)