Shahzada Masoud: Growing The Cricket Tribe

MCC captain Mike Gatting after his team were beaten by 196 runs in Mumbai, April 2006

You accompanied the national senior team to England this year, what were your expectations before you went there?
When we went to England I didn’t expect much from our side except for them gaining some valuable experience. I never thought that they’d beat the major teams in England but the team played very well in all their games and won six out of seven matches. The one that was lost was a very narrow defeat.

What were the reactions of the English at the sight of Afghanistan playing cricket?
When we visited the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst there were Afghan cadets in the academy who said that people were actually laughing about the fact that we were coming to play cricket against them. And then Afghanistan won. After beating the MCC in India earlier in the year this was good. The better the team the better we play.

In the Coronation Garden at Lord’s, June 2006

Why do you think cricket has taken so long to start in Afghanistan especially since it is so very near Pakistan?
Well first in the history of Afghanistan, the English were never able to conquer the country. Even years ago while cricket was being played in Pakistan there was obviously no TV coverage of the games and so most people got information and commentary only through the radio. Plus in the frontier province and north Pakistan cricket was not that popular for many years. I think it caught on during the 1987 World Cup in Pakistan where there was coverage. Also people who fled the Russian rule in Afghanistan went to Pakistan and either lived in camps across the border or assimilated into places like Peshawar, Rawalpindi and Lahore. Many Afghans share a common heritage with people like Shahid Afridi who is a big hero to the Afghans, Younis Khan and even Imran Khan, who is believed to be an Afghan from his mother’s family.

Afghanistan's leading batsman Hasti Gul with Shahid Afridi and Younis Khan in Peshawar.

Afghanis in the 1980s picked up the game by watching Pakistani children playing in the streets. On their return home they continued their interest by setting up cricket clubs. But only after the fall of the Taliban in 2001 did the government actually recognize the game and from there on thousands of youngsters started playing cricket.

At Kabul airport with the national captain Raees Ahmadzai after the team’s triumphant return from England, June 2006

What was the Taliban’s argument against cricket?
The Taliban had no argument. They didn’t like any sport.

In Asia we see so many political figures at the head of sporting bodies. Does your position in the government give you an advantage in order to be a sporting body’s president? Does ability in one body help in the other?
It certainly helps but then again my team and all the people I work with are very cooperative and helpful in every possible way.

Noor Ali Noori getting to grips with WG Grace

One thing noticed by all who watch Afghanistan’s cricket is that they like to hit hard and bowl fast with not many variations and it’s put down to ‘the Afghan way’. Do you think the team have it in them to be able to adapt when conditions don’t allow for those tactics to be effective?
This is just the nature of the Afghanis. This is how they play. Although this is the case and it has been successful, we have lost whenever we have not been able to adapt. We now realize we need a balanced side, a side consisting of spinners as well as fast bowlers and batsmen who can handle the pressure in the middle order etc. As of now we are training the players to pick their shots carefully and play smart instead of blind hitting.

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