Afghanistan fans throng to stadium to watch Shpageeza Cricket League matches despite terror attack

Thousands of Afghanistan cricket-mad fans have been travelling across the war-torn country to watch the domestic T20 competition Shpageeza Cricket League in Kabul

AFP, Sep 20, 2017 13:17:37 IST

Kabul: Afghan soldier Ehsanullah waves a national flag as he dances half-naked in the stands of Kabul's main cricket ground – one of thousands of fans defying rising insecurity for the rare opportunity to see their favourite game live.

Afghanistan fans throng to stadium to watch Shpageeza Cricket League matches despite terror attack

Afghanistan's cricket fan waves the national flag with the name of country's cricket sensation Rashid Khan painted on it during the Shpageeza Cricket League T20. AFP

The 23-year-old took time off from fighting Taliban insurgents in volatile Kandahar province to attend the Shpageeza Cricket League in the Afghan capital just days after a suicide bomber blew himself up outside the stadium.

"I want to show my love and support the sport," said Ehsanullah, wearing only the baggy trousers of his traditional shalwar kameez to show off his chest painted in the national colours of green, red and black and his back scrawled with the name of Afghanistan's teenage leg-spinner Rashid Khan.

Thousands of cricket-mad fans have been travelling across the war-torn country to watch the domestic T20 competition that ends Friday.

Photos posted on Twitter purportedly show a long convoy of mini buses packed with flag-waving supporters, some sitting on the rooftops, driving from neighbouring Logar province to catch the final days of play.

The fifth edition of the six-team tournament has attracted big-name Afghan and foreign players, coaches and commentators, bringing much-needed cheer to a country worn down by grinding conflict.

The deadly violence almost reached the cricket ground on the third day of the tournament when a suicide bomber blew himself up at a police checkpoint near the stadium where hundreds of spectators were watching a game inside.

Three people were killed including a policeman and five others were wounded in the blast that briefly interrupted play and rattled foreigners unaccustomed to explosions.

While some of the foreign contingent left Afghanistan in the wake of the attack, most chose to stay after receiving assurances from President Ashraf Ghani that their security would be beefed up.

"I don't feel that I am in any danger... I stand in solidarity not only with the Afghan cricketers but with the people of Afghanistan," former Zimbabwe captain and commentator Alistair Campbell told AFP.

Former England one-day captain Adam Hollioake, one of team coaches, tweeted: "I refuse to be terrorised. I stay til the job is done."

Say no to terrorism

After the blast fans returned to the stadium, forming queues hundreds of metres long as they waited patiently to get inside as heavily armed security forces patrolled the grounds.

Spectators are happy to be able to watch a game banned in the late 1990s by the then ruling Islamist Taliban who viewed sports as a distraction from religious duties but is now making a stunning revival.

The country was catapulted into the elite club of Test nations in June and made its landmark Lord's debut the following month.

"We are scared but we have to say no to terrorism," said 22-year-old Shamsul Haq who travelled from the southeastern province of Paktika to sell Afghan national flags to spectators and watch the cricket.

Matches are punctuated by the blare of team songs – broadcast in Afghanistan's two official languages of Dari and Pashto – whenever a big-swinging batsman hits a four or a six, delighting the mostly male crowd.

Fans unable to go to the stadium follow the competition on televisions in homes, shops and restaurants around the country.

"I have come to the stadium only on the days when Rashid Khan's team is playing and I watch the other matches on television," said Azizullah Shabab, 17, who skipped school to watch the tournament.

Updated Date: Sep 20, 2017 13:17:37 IST






Rank Team Points Rating
1 India 4027 115
2 New Zealand 2829 109
3 South Africa 2917 108
4 England 3778 105
5 Australia 2640 98
6 Sri Lanka 3795 95
Rank Team Points Rating
1 England 6745 125
2 India 7071 122
3 New Zealand 4837 112
4 Australia 5543 111
5 South Africa 5193 110
6 Pakistan 4756 97
Rank Team Points Rating
1 Pakistan 7365 283
2 England 4253 266
3 South Africa 4196 262
4 India 8099 261
5 Australia 5471 261
6 New Zealand 4784 252