Atia Abawi, Kabul Correspondent
KABUL, Afghanistan - After two-years in Afghanistan I still have no clue how cricket is played. But what I do know is how much this game, which dates back to 16th century England and is played throughout the former British colonies, means to Afghans.
The Afghan cricket team has brought a sense of nationalism and pride that the government and international community couldn’t achieve in a nation divided by ethnicities, tribes and rivalries.
Khyber Shinwari, a producer for NBC News in Afghanistan, grew up in Peshawar, Pakistan – like many Afghans who fled the Soviet fighting.
And that’s where his love for Cricket began.
During the Taliban regime from 1996-2001 cricket and most sports were banned, deemed un-Islamic, in Afghanistan. But some of the Talibs themselves loved the sport too much to give it up completely. They gave Khyber and his buddies in Peshawar written permission to come to the border and play a local Afghan team.
“Even the Taliban came to watch the game,” Khyber remembered.
Khyber says he wasn’t scared of the Taliban but some of his Pakistani teammates were and it affected their game. In the end they lost to the local Afghan team but both sides had a day to remember.
Spark of nationalism
Another memorable moment came on Thursday when Afghanistan beat Pakistan during The Asia Cup.
Bringing another spark of nationalism after beating a country who is a rival in so many ways – reaching beyond the cricket pitch.
The game was so symbolic here in Afghanistan that President Hamid Karzai promised each player a new car if they defeated the Pakistani team.
But for Khyber it simply comes down to the sport.
“Pakistan is an international team and a very strong team, and we beat a strong team!”
Although Khyber still has ties to Pakistan he is frank on why he has no conflict of interest in whom to support.
“Because I’m Afghan, I should support my country,” he said.
Afghanistan played Bangladesh in The Asia Cup final on Friday, and Khyber is trying his best to explain to me what is going on.
“This is good, that’s four runs,” he says excitedly after the Afghan player hit the ball far out in the field.
His excitement reminds me of all the Afghan faces I saw in the documentary, ‘Out of the Ashes’.
The movie shows how the Afghan cricket team went from playing on the dirt grounds of the refugee camps in Pakistan to becoming champions on the world stage.
“I’m very proud of the Afghan team and all of Afghanistan should be proud of the Afghan team,” Khyber told me.
Afghanistan ended up losing to Bangladesh. But there is no doubt the team will still be greeted at Kabul airport with a heroes' welcome lining the streets of the country’s capital.
I still don’t know much about how cricket is played but maybe one day I can teach Khyber about Baseball. I’m sure he will be a better learner than I was.