Better to bat than to bomb

Cricket has arrived in Afghanistan and a team is about to contest the ICC World Twenty20 Qualifier tournament. It could do more for peace in that country than the latest troop surge, suggests John de Bueger.

These days it is rare for any news out of Afghanistan to be anything other than depressing, so it was both unexpected and pleasing to hear a clip the other day that wasn't.

There has been a dramatic upsurge in Kabul for cable TV connections and for the most improbable of reasons.

The Afghani national cricket team is competing in the upcoming ICC World Twenty20 Qualifier tournament next month and will meet an equally improbable opponent, the United States.

One doesn't normally expect a natural affinity to exist between the gentlemen's game and warring tribesmen from the opium poppy fields.

But affinity indeed there is.

This stems from the Taliban years, when several million Afghanis fled into neighbouring Pakistan and sprawling refugee camps sprang up on the border.

The devil makes work for idle hands, so the Pakistani authorities, anxious to foil trouble before it started, racked their brains on how to keep their unwanted guests gainfully occupied.

They hit on a brilliant solution - they taught them to play cricket.

Bats, balls and boxes don't cost much, so for a very modest sum large numbers of potential troublemakers could be kept harmlessly occupied, venting any pent-up aggression.

One of the few things India and Pakistan have in common is an obsession with cricket.

And anywhere in the Middle East where there are large numbers of expatriate workers from the sub-continent, how do you suppose that they pass their free time? That's right.

They play cricket morning, noon or night on any football pitch, car park, or piece of waste land handy.

They battle it out under the noonday sun with the temperature in the high 40s, while bemused Arabs drive past in air-conditioned SUVs with expressions of total incredulity written over their faces.

An appetite for this most unlikely of sporting activities seems to have taken a grip on some Afghanis as well, and given their natural athleticism, it isn't surprising some of them are showing sufficient promise to invoke a national interest in cricket.

Hence the recent uplift in demand for cable TV.

Let us hope Afghanistan does well at the ICC World Twenty20 Qualifier, because every other initiative the international community has tried in that godforsaken place has turned to stone.

Never mind. If any of these brainwashed nutters can be induced to pad-up, instead of donning suicide belts, then so much the better.

Let us hope that they give Uncle Sam a good seeing-to, because a walloping at the wicket by Afghanistan would have far greater beneficial effects than any troop surge in that blighted country.

• John de Bueger is a New Plymouth writer and engineer.


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