If there was ever a prize given in the cricket world for playing with the most passion then Afghanistan would win it by a mile. They play with an uninhibited freedom and desire to belt the ball into distant territories and blast stumps into smithereens that is rather refreshing. They play cricket the way it was originally designed to be played – as ‘a see ball, hit ball’ game with all considerations of tactical nuance and fine shadings to be the province of teams that can’t do what they do.
“Other teams are scared to play us.”
They impressed many during their first major tournament, the 2004 ACC Trophy, finishing 6th out of 15 and would have won more games had they played with just a little more match awareness. Still, for a country that was only affiliated to the ICC in 2001 it is some achievement. Moreover to play with such competence in a country where conditions are not exactly conducive to cricket is quite remarkable.
Taj Malik and I spoke in Kuala Lumpur, where he was attending an ACC Sports Medicine and Fitness Seminar. I had heard from my colleagues in the Development Team that Taj Malik could talk up a storm and that he certainly did. He has just a little too much of the wheeler-dealer about him, but it’s hard to envisage Afghan cricket getting quite so far so soon, without him. Our conversation encompassed nation-building, national pride and how best to hit a dead sheep.
When did Afghanistan first start playing cricket?
"During the wars against Russia (from 1979 to 1989) and the civil wars (mujahidin against Communist government against Taliban up to 1996 and beyond) up to 2 million Afghans went across the border with Pakistan and stayed in camps where they saw the game being played by the Pakistanis and took it up because there was nothing else to do."
Taj Malik with Imran Khan
I would have thought that Afghanistan would have had some cricket influences earlier.
"Afghanistan was never conquered by the British. Afghans are actually very close to the people of northern Pakistan, we speak the same language Pushto and there was always a lot of movement across the borders. Imran Khan is an Afghani, his mother’s homeland was in Afghanistan. Many cricketers who play in Peshawar are Afghans in background – Shahid Afridi, Riaz Afridi, Umar Gul, Younis Khan, Yasir Hameed. They are like brothers to us. We like Shahid Afridi very much."
How popular is cricket in Afghanistan?
"The Minister of Sport has made cricket the official Number 1 sport of Afghanistan and there is the same STAR Sports as Pakistan and India so cricket is very popular on TV."
What is your main job in Afghanistan?
"My job is as much to work with youngsters as it is the national team."
What do you try to promote through cricket?
"It is a good sport. Very fast and it suits the Afghans because we are big and strong. Everybody wants to be a fast bowler and a strong batsman. Already we have one young fast bowler Shahpour Zadran who is the fastest bowler in Afghanistan and he can bowl 150 kmh."
What about spin-bowling?
"I am a spin-bowler, leg-breaks. Our batsmen are very strong in cuts, pulls and hooks because our bowling is mostly fast and we play and practice many matches on concrete wickets."
Are there many spin-bowlers in Afghanistan?
"Not many. This is why we are struggling on turf wickets against them. We would have beaten Nepal in the ACC Trophy were it not for this."
Wouldn’t the solution be to develop some slow-bowlers?
"No one wants to bowl off-spin in Afghanistan! They do not think it is attacking."
Next Page | “We are not scared of anyone.”