As uncertainty surrounds the upcoming cricket Test between Australia and Afghanistan, prominent community figures Down Under remain hopeful of seeing the countries compete.
Developments in Afghanistan following the Taliban’s return to power have cast doubt on the staging of a historic first cricket Test between Australia and Afghanistan in Hobart on November 27.
Although still scheduled, Cricket Australia recently said it may have “no alternative” but to cancel the Test over comments made by the deputy head of the Taliban's cultural commission Ahmadullah Wasiq that he didn’t envision women being allowed to play cricket because sport was “not necessary”.
- The historic first Test between Australia and Afghanistan for November 27 is in doubt due to comments by the Taliban targeting women's sport.
- Cricketer Hameed Kherkhah says if Cricket Australia cancels the test, other nations will follow.
- Former Afghan diplomat Fazal Katawazai believes cricketers are more like "ambassadors of peace and goodwill".
Wasiq’s comments were rebuked by the federal government as “unacceptable” and raised questions over Afghanistan’s membership to the International Cricket Council under a Taliban regime.
In a recent development, Afghanistan Cricket Board chairperson Azizullah Fazli told SBS Pashto women are allowed to play the sport if they abide by the Islamic dress code and said the Taliban had not notified the organisation that a ban was to be enforced.
But as November draws closer, Afghan Australian cricketer Hameed Kherkhah fears that if Cricket Australia scraps the Test, other countries will follow suit.
The off-spin bowler believes Afghan cricketers and the Afghanistan Cricket Board face a “difficult time” ahead and need support.
“Cricket is not just a game, but it is a sport about spreading happiness to every player and everyone who watches the game,” he tells SBS Pashto.
“Australia should help Afghanistan, but not just Australia. It should tell other countries that we should give our fields in India or the UAE to Afghan cricketers to practice [for matches].
Instead of leaving them alone in this bad time, there should be sympathy with them and help them financially.
Kherkhah, who hopes to one day represent Australia, believes the growth of cricket in Afghanistan over the past two decades was proof that it has been a source of unity and progression in the country.
“If we look at the history of Afghanistan, Afghan cricket and its players have flourished since the beginning of cricket,” he says.
“We always see that they have qualified for T20 tournaments and they defeat great cricket teams such as the West Indies.”
‘Ambassadors of peace and goodwill’
Former Afghan diplomat in Canberra Fazal Katawazai says that besides girls’ education and the freedom of the press, the growth of cricket has been another “remarkable achievement” of the past 20 years in his homeland.
“[It’s an achievement] that has been grown and developed in Afghanistan with the support of the international community, especially Australia,” he says, citing players that have moved to the professional ranks.
“Rashid Khan, Mohammad Nabi, Mujeeb-ur-Rehman, Noor Ahmad and Zahir Khan are the Afghan stars who have been playing in the Australian Big Bash League for several years now and have a lot of fans here in Australia.
“Thanks to these athletes who have made it possible to erase the 10,000-kilometre distance between these two friendly nations.”
He says sportspeople are considered “ambassadors of peace and goodwill” and it would be a “great injustice” to stop Afghan players from competing due to political or ideological affiliations of a particular group or regime.
“After the Taliban's takeover of Kabul, although the international community in Afghanistan has turned a blind eye to girls' education and freedom of the press, it would also be a great injustice to turn a blind eye to cricket.”
Uzair Safi, the head of Pashtun Association in South Australia which organises the Multicultural Cricket League in Adelaide, says a cancelled Test would “break the hearts” of Afghans in Australia, and have little impact on the Taliban.
“If we look at the last few years, it shows how much Afghanistan has progressed in the field of cricket. So, this decision [to cancel the first test match] would break our hearts,” he says.
He believes Afghan cricketers may have no choice but to respond.
“[Afghan cricket players] may also boycott the cricket leagues where they play games. It would especially have a negative impact on the relationship and connections of the players which play in Australia Big Bash.”
‘We need to focus on positivity’
Ziaulhaq Abdulrahimzai, a representative of Afghan Australian Youth Association (AAYA) in Sydney, says it would be unfair for Cricket Australia to cancel the Test.
“This will have a detrimental effect not only on the upcoming matches between Afghanistan and Australia but also on international cricket."
He insists that Cricket Australia should “continue their cooperation” with the Afghanistan Cricket Board and even with the Taliban to ensure female participation continues into the future.
“Even if the Taliban decide to postpone women's cricket. I believe this time, this Test should go ahead. Otherwise, this would be a big blow for Afghan cricket and their fans, and literally the whole cricket world.
“We need to focus on the positive right now. Afghan cricket has brought joy to millions of fans around the world.”