Palembang/Jakarta: On reaching Indonesia for the Asian Games, hearts in their mouths after a brush with American war tanks on way to Kabul airport, Afghanistan's athletes requested India to help them the way it helped their cricket.
As they headed towards the airport, a 100-odd Afghani athletes saw American war tanks approach their Asian Games-bound Contingent bus.
Much to their relief, they were just asked to make way for the tanks.
Three out of those athletes, who watched blasts rock Kabul on Wednesday, are 100m specialists Abdul Wahab Zahiri and Kamia Yousufi, who competed at Rio Olympics, and sprinter Sadia Bromand.
The relief was palpable on the face of Zahiri as he spoke to PTI, reliving the scary experience at home.
"You won't understand how we felt when we saw the American tanks. We constantly live in terror. But we want to live a peaceful life. We want to achieve our dreams, make our country proud," said Zahiri.
They have seen how cricket has flourished in the Taliban-hit country with significant help from India. How Rashid Khan has gained the status of a super star after appearing in the IPL along with other cricketers from his country.
The non-cricket athletes are also looking towards India for help, to live their dreams.
Zahiri made an honest appeal to the Indian authorities: Help us the way you have helped Afghanistan cricket.
While Zahiri developed a liking for the sport while studying in the Lahore University, Yousufi chased her dream in her birthplace Iran.
"When it comes to talent, Afghanistan has that in abundance. We just need support. When we left Kabul yesterday, there was a blast. There is a blast almost every day. That sums up our story but we still continue to train and work hard," Zahiri said.
Zahiri claimed to have met star Afghanistan spinner Rashid Khan in Lahore six years ago and said if athletes gets the same support from India that Afghanistan cricketers have got, they could go a long way.
"I just trained for a month and showed up here. I want to train in India in the long-run so that I can improve my timings. I have written to Athletics Federation of India many times, most recently in 2015, but have not got a response yet," said Zahiri, whose personal best in 100m is 11.56 seconds, achieved at the Rio Olympics.
He revealed that each athlete got approximately Rs 28,000 for the entire duration of the Games.
"My shoes only come for Rs 6,000. What do I do with this little amount? I am just continuing running because of my brother's support. Else I would not have been able to survive," said the 26-year-old, who himself has two kids.
He hoped other sports too grow like cricket in Afghanistan.
"Cricket has become so big in very little time."
There is no doubting the talent of Afghan cricketers but their skill would not be on full display if not for help from the Indian Cricket Board (BCCI), which allocated them a home ground in Greater Noida and Dehradun.
Their players, headlined by Rashid, are regulars in the IPL.
Like Zahiri, Olympian Kamia too competed at Rio Games and now wants to train in India.
"I cannot train in Afghanistan because of safety reasons. Training in India would give me the right kind of exposure. Hope something can be worked out. It is very tough to be a sportsperson in Afghanistan," Kamia, who wears a hijab while training, said.
Another athlete Sadia, who went to Rio as Kamia's coach has similar aspirations.
"It will be a big relief if we are to train without worrying about our safety in Afghanistan," she said.
Updated Date: Aug 16, 2018 19:46 PM