Why would a white, 52-year-old cricket writer from a privileged background, with a wife and two teenage daughters, want to work in Kabul, Afghanistan? That’s the question – and the answer.
It is still difficult to comprehend the magnitude of the Afghan cricket story, and its extraordinary result. Just over a dozen years ago they were in the ICC’s World League Division 7. Imagine Botswana, Nigeria, Germany, Japan or Norway playing Test cricket in 12 years. Or Vanuatu.
Proximity to Pakistan and cross-cultural contact gave Afghanistan an advantage, but there was no domestic league to speak of. Just random matches between semi-established club sides, and yet…extraordinary.
The rise of the national side has taken place too quickly, say the established sceptics, for continued, sustainable growth. But what would they know? What would they have said a dozen years ago if someone had suggested Afghanistan would compete in two World Cups and be granted Test status?
Efforts are being made all the time to establish a domestic competition which provides opportunities to young players in the face of odds and circumstances which seem ludicrously loaded against them. The art and science required to build and maintain turf pitches and a grass outfield do not rate highly amongst Afghanistan’s horticulturalists.
The Taliban, a few years ago, declared it’s disapproval of cricket. Apparently, a truce now exists, and cricket is tolerated by the extremists under certain conditions and in particular circumstances. I’m not sure what they are, and I’m loath to rely on the internet. I’d rather see for myself.
There are appalling acts of violence occurring on a miserably regular basis, yet the city’s population of nearly five million continues to function. Nine airlines fly into the city with the world’s largest, Emirates, operating two flights a day. The majority of the world’s media find an easy story in the country’s horrific history of war and conflict, but there remain millions of people trying hard to go about their daily lives as normally as possible. The BBC recently aired a documentary which confirmed more civilians had been killed in Afghanistan in the last two months than in the rest of the world’s conflicts combined.
Crime figures are always eye-catching and open to interpretation and contextualisation. The majority of citizens in many of the world’s crime ‘hot spots’ do not feel their lives are under threat every day – many who live in more affluent suburbs find their city’s place in the top ten ‘most murders’ list curious. But for those living in the ‘wrong’ suburbs, it is their brutal reality and truth.
The same applies in Kabul, I’m told, although none of its inhabitants would have any doubts about the inherent dangers. One devastating bomb blast which kills over 100 people at a wedding reception makes eye-watering news. It does not mean the entire city is being blown up, and certain areas are more vulnerable than others.
“How much,” I was asked, “would I be prepared to go for? To commentate on the domestic T20 Shpageeza League?” It was a question I initially considered on a purely financial basis. Until I realised that it was putting a price on my life. If I did that, I would never go. Not many would.
The Afghanistan Cricket Board provide ‘presidential level security’ and, naturally, there would be no strolling the city’s markets between games. In truth, there might be minimal opportunity to see anything of the country outside the hotel and the journey to the ground. But there would be plenty of time to meet and speak to people, to discover their journey first hand.
The deal has yet to finalised and, having been cancelled once already and reinstated, the tournament may not even happen. There have been plenty of over-sentimental stories filmed and written about ‘sport for good’ but if you want to play or watch cricket in Kabul, do you just give up because of the terrorists? And if you are invited to commentate…?
Questions? Comments? Suggestions? Feel free to get in touch.