|Afghanistan’s team narrowly missed out on winning a place in the World Cup [GALLO/GETTY]|
It was not what you’d expect. We all know Afghanistan means suicide bombs, endless killings and strict security.
But the day I arrived, I watched a game of cricket.
The young players had limited kit, little training and a field for a pitch – but it was cricket. In Kabul. And it’s spreading.
Cricket is on everyone’s lips here. The success of the national team in attempting to reach the World Cup finals has gripped the imagination of a people desperately looking for some release from the daily horror.
The team was welcomed back to Kabul amid a cacophony of trumpets, drums and delirious Afghans shouting: “Long live Afghanistan!”
These players have defied the odds. Big time. They beat a host of better funded, better equipped nations like Argentina and Ireland. They only narrowly missed out on winning a place in the World Cup.
As a result of their success, Afghanistan is now officially an international cricketing presence. The nation can take part in One Day Internationals against the likes of the mighty Australia, India and the rest.
So not bombs but party poppers exploding, as confetti erupted into the crisp spring air.
Amid a chanting, cheering crowd, the team was welcomed home alongside a landmark of an ugly past – Kabul’s national stadium, where the Taliban once held public executions.
As children, attempting to escape the violence in Afghanistan, the players fled to Pakistan. There, in refugee camps, along with thousands of homeless compatriots, they learnt how to play cricket.
And now the world is recognising Afghanistan for something other than conflict and everyone wants their picture taken with the stars.
We filmed quick bowler Ahmid Hassan Mohmand, his green-blazer festooned in garlands of flowers as he was embraced by an army of fans.
“I’m very happy. The people have so little to celebrate and this gives them reason for hope,” he told us.
All-rounder Khaliq Dad Noori was six months old when his family fled to Pakistan – now he’s a national hero.
“It’s just so good that war has been replaced by sport in the news,” he said. “We need to capitalise on this.”
It is a rare good news story in a country with a monopoly on the bad. Clearly Afghanistan’s deep problems dwarf this unexpected triumph in the game of cricket.
But some see an opportunity – from Kandahar to Kabul, cricket is slowly and steadily gaining in popularity.
Here then, surely, is a chance to build on the pride and sense of unity that a team of determined refugees has engendered in its country.
As drums thumped out a Pashtun beat, Afghan men whirled and spun in celebration.
Their sheer abandon makes you wonder just how they would celebrate something still more significant – peace for example.