George Orwell’s metaphorical classification of sport as war minus the shooting is well known, but lost in that over quoted line is its ability to heal. For proof, look no further than today’s historic win for Afghanistan’s cricket team, their first in their debut World Cup. That they are there on cricket’s biggest stage is a fairy tale against all odds in itself but it is beyond heartening to see them competing the way they are and what it means to their countrymen back home.
I have written about the healing power of sport here before, in the context of Colombia at football’s World Cup last year. But to see folks out on the streets of Kabul celebrating a win is exactly the reason I fell in love with sports in the first place. Its ability to inspire hope amidst the bleakest of settings should never be underestimated.
Since the Taliban took over the country, Kabul, a once great world city has been under a constant stage of siege. If the Blue Tigers’ fighting spirit (they were 97/7 in a chase of 211 against Scotland before recovering to win a thriller by one wicket in the final over) provides even a fleeting moment of unadulterated joy, their long, winding and often dusty journey to the World Cup would have been worth it. For a country repressed by extremism and violence, the national cricket team is that rare opportunity for self expression without fear of retribution. And in a Shapoor Zadran’s headband it finds that expression.
Mohammed Nabi, the captain, like a lot of the others in the team used the game as an escape in the refugee camps in Pehsawar where he grew up. The motley crew got together as the Taliban allowed, in what must be a rare show of clemency, cricket when it cracked down on and banned other sports. For a proud and sport loving people it became a chance to prove themselves worthy as they set out with a mission to rub shoulders with the top rung of cricketing nations by competing in the World Cup.
From the fifth division of international cricket with barely any facilities in 2008 to the World Cup in 2015 has been a giddy rise for the Afghan Cricket Board and its players. As their former coach says in the documentary ‘Out Of The Ashes’ that the country has so many problems and the solution to those is…cricket. He may have been specific there but his larger sentiment was really hinting at sports in general and their capacity to germinate a ray of hope.
For every kid who picks up a bat in the dusty or muddy bylanes of Kabul cricket represents an escape that is not beyond the realm of possibility. If that kid dons the Blue Tigers’ shirt and imagines himself for one moment to be under the spotlight as his team beats Bangladesh in Bangladesh at the Asian Cup or gives Sri Lanka a scare at the World Cup or that magical moment when they hit the winning boundary against Scotland it provides him with that one moment of magic.
And that’s why we love sport. Because the magical realism of it can leap right out of the pages of fiction and right into our lives.
Go Blue Tigers.