Mirza Nomaan Ashrafi
The last few days have been a rollercoaster ride for Afghan cricket following the rapid takeover of the country by the Taliban — there is instability in leadership, a selection crisis, a historic Test on the verge of cancellation and a captaincy shuffle indicative of a larger rift in the dressing room.
The whole saga has unfolded just ahead of an important stop on the international itinerary, the T20 World Cup, making it a matter of grave concern for the future of Afghan cricket.
In July, the Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB) opted for split-captaincy by removing Asghar Afghan and appointing Rashid Khan as the team’s T20I skipper. Considering his rich experience and global reputation in the T20 format, Rashid’s appointment was vital. Furthermore, a good show was expected in the ODIs against Pakistan in early September.
Meanwhile, the security situation continued to deteriorate rapidly in the country. On August 15, the Taliban took over Kabul and, like the country itself, cricket came under a shadow of uncertainty. The administration started to crumble and the series against Pakistan was postponed indefinitely.
Game of thrones
As the Taliban gave an assurance of cricket’s continuance under the new regime, a power struggle began in the ACB, with various groups laying a claim on the leadership of the organisation. According to local journalists and media sources, former captain Asghar Afghan, former chairman Azizullah Fazli, former national team manager Taj Malik Alam and former chairman Allah Daad Noori were said to be in the race to claim leadership roles.
In a detailed post on Facebook, ACB’s Head of Media, Hikmat Hassan, revealed that Fazli had self-announced himself as the acting ACB chairman, with a provisional letter from the ruling government to assert that claim. Hassan alleged that Fazli has since then continuously misused his authority by hiring and removing employees at will — as per the ACB constitution, an acting chairman is not authorised to do.
Hassan added that he and other responsible members of the media department were removed from their roles across ACB’s official social media platforms, which were brought under the personal control of Fazli. He also claimed that a committee that cleared former captain Asghar Afghan — of charges laid against him after the Zimbabwe series in March — was set up overnight and lacked transparency.
The controversial selection of the squad for the T20 World Cup has been a matter of hot debate, with some players even implying that selection was based on favouritism. Promising youngsters like Noor Ahmad Lakanwal, Azmatullah Omarzai, Fazal Haq Farooqi and others have been left out to make way for older faces like Shapoor Zadran, Dawlat Zadran, and Asghar Afghan.
The selection drama and the deepening rift in the national side led to a rather unpleasant result when star performer Rashid Khan stepped down as captain, citing lack of consultation in squad selection as the reason.
Cricket Australia has made it clear that the one-off Test match — scheduled to be played in Hobart — could be cancelled if the Taliban do not allow women’s cricket to continue in Afghanistan. Aussie skipper Tim Paine went a step further, implying the ICC should not allow Afghanistan to participate in the T20 World Cup.
ACB CEO Dr Hamid Shinwari released an impassioned statement, pointing to the fact that the lack of women’s cricket in the country had less to do with the Taliban takeover and more with Afghanistan’s rather traditional and religious social norms.
With the political landscape changed, things look bleak for Afghan cricket. The potential cancellation of the Test against Australia and the exclusion of deserving youngsters from the national T20I squad have raised questions over whether ACB would be able to sustain for much longer now.
Don’t isolate Afghanistan
Afghanistan’s rapid rise over the last two decades has been a remarkable success story, almost a sporting miracle. To ensure the sport continues to flourish, the ICC and its member nations must support the Afghan team during these tumultuous times. The isolation of Afghanistan will have wider repercussions for the country’s youth, who see cricket as a beacon of hope.
The cricketing world needs to understand that ACB and Afghan players are powerless when it comes to changing the religious, sociopolitical and traditional norms that Afghan women face. It is a gradual process and Afghanistan needs time.
The Taliban have shown a favourable attitude towards cricket in Afghanistan, and now it is up to ICC and ACB to ensure the talent stream in one of the cricket world’s richest but untapped talent sources continues to flow.
(The writer was part of the ACB’s digital and social media team and currently resides outside Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover)
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