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Posted at: Jun 15, 2018, 1:20 AM; last updated: Jun 15, 2018, 1:20 AM (IST)

Durani, the great Indian-Afghan icon

Rohit Mahajan

Tribune News Service

Bengaluru, June 14

Salim Durani, the Afghanistan-born cricketer, the flamboyant and glamorous man who was paired with Parveen Babi in a Hindi movie in the 1970s, is fighting a battle against old age. At 83, his speech is not perfectly distinct, he tires easily, and he does not resent a supporting arm when he walks. But he had a grin on his face and a sparkle in his eye today. The country of his birth made its debut in Test cricket today.

Master Aziz Durani, Salim’s father, chose to live in the new country of Pakistan when it was created in 1947, and Salim and his mother stayed in India. Master Durani became a legendary coach in Pakistan, Salim a legendary cricketer in India. But the two met only once after 1947. Master Durani never remembered Salim with tears in his eyes till the end of his days.

Salim Durani’s eyes light up as he talks about his father. “He was from Afghanistan, but moved to Jamnagar in the princely state of Nawanagar and even won the Ranji Trophy with that team,” he says. Salim, a special guest for Afghanistan’s first Test, was present during the toss in the morning, and presented a memento to Asghar Stanikzai, the Afghan captain. Salim got one more invite today — the Afghans have invited him for a visit to that country. This has made him very happy, though it’s uncertain if his health will permit him to travel the land where he was born. So, will he go? “I plan to!” says Durani.

Cricket for peace

Cricket has been the best news for Afghanistan in decades. Hazrat Umar Shenwari, from Nangarhar but now a  business administration student in Hyderabad, waves his country’s flag energetically through day. “I’m proud of watching this team, and the fact that Afghanistan has a national team,” he says. Shenwari is the proud owner of a ‘Pashteen hat’, which he wears in a show of solidarity with Manzoor Pashteen, the leader of the Pashtoon Muhafiz Movement in Pakistan. The Pashteen hat has become so popular that Kabul is facing a huge shortfall. But his love is not restricted to Pakhtoons (Pathans) of Pakistan and Afghanistan — he’s overflowing with love for the other ethnic groups of his country. “It’s a team of Pakhtoons, yes, but in our country, all the ethnicities, they have the same rights,” he says, referring to the people of Tajik, Uzbek, Hazara and other ethnicities. “This team brings happiness to everyone in Afghanistan.”

“Sport is a good way to bring peace to the country. There is a lot of love for cricket in our country,” he continues, and his friends Noorullah, Anees, Osman Jan and Rahimullah nod in agreement. They are all Pakhtoons from Nangarhar, Kandahar and Khost, all of them studying in Hyderabad, part of a community of 1,000-odd Afghan students there. They’d been holidaying in Afghanistan but decided to come to India earlier than scheduled, only to watch the cricket. “We are missing celebrating Eid with our families in Afghanistan, only to watch our national team play its first Test match,” says Anees, from Nangarhar. “We did not want to miss the chance of supporting our team in its first Test match.”

They also say that in Afghanistan, which is also football-mad, Virat Kohli is more popular than Lionel Messi. “Messi is also very popular among the football fans, but because cricket is more popular than football, we can say that Kohli is more popular than Messi,” says Shenwari. “I’m also a big fan of Virat Kohli. But our own players are most important for us, even if they are not very great as players.”

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