EMAL PASARLY: TRACKING AFGHANISTAN'S RISE

 

And it has been the BBC from the start?
Back in those earlier days we had a colleague who used to do a sports program. The program was about cricket and other sports but there was no terminology for cricket in Pashtun. So when I started the sports program, I started trying to explain cricket to our audience because no one knew what a bat, batsman or a bowler was. It was a struggle but when the Afghan team managed to win tournament after tournament, through being online, we managed to get lot of new words in Pashtun. Thanks to our audience as well, we used phrases for four and six. It was a combination effort between us and our audience to get some words for the game.

Afghanistan prepare to leave for the ICC Twenty20 World Cup

So Afghans have adopted cricket culture by bringing those cricket terms into their own language.
People didn’t know the fielding positions yet because the Afghan team was never on television. Online and on radio you can explain things. I was struggling to explain what is called leg-bye. Everytime I had to explain about the powerplay rules and that you could only have two fielders outside the circle and things like that. But now that people are watching it on TV, they will be asking what silly mid-on and slip is and other things.

How many listeners do you get on your stream?
I started the coverage of the Afghan national team since 1996-1997. The first time under the leadership of Allah Dad Noori Afghanistan went to Pakistan. We started from then but of course there wasn’t too many people following it. Since the fall of the Taliban in 2004 when Afghanistan played in the ACC Trophy we started reporting online and later on giving it live coverage in those games. I remember for one game we received more than 12,000 emails from all over Afghanistan and other parts of the world, but by the time the team got qualification to the T20 World Cup in 2010, I thought the Afghan media was focused on cricket. They have more competitions now but I would say BBC was the pioneer in the coverage of Afghanistan cricket. Now the local radios are giving live commentary and TV crews are being sent to record the game to be played later on and even the T20 World Cup some stations showed it live. The game has changed.

President Karzai with the Afghanistan team after they won the 2007 ACC Twenty20 Cup

How many people do you think watched the game on Shamshad TV?
For the second game against South Africa, the game started at 1:30 in the morning Afghan time but still people watched. Apparently even President Karzai called the TV station to find out the schedule of the game and wanted to watch it. When I spoke to my family, they knew everything about the coverage and even noticed me in a glimpse on the TV. People from all parts of the country watched the first game against India when it was earlier in the evening. Later on from youtube, they watched the highlights. The interviews I did with Kabir and some players are the most visited stories on our website and our site is visited by millions of people from all over. That itself shows the interest of the people. I was lucky to be sent by the BBC to the West Indies and was the only Afghan journalist there. Raees Ahmadzai gave me his Afghan flag and it was visible whenever the TV cameras were on the press box people told me afterwards.

Did you watch the team play first in 1996-1997 or hear about them on the radio?
The first time I saw something about Afghan cricket was when a colleague of mine was in Kabul and he said he saw some people playing cricket there. He helped them with some bats and balls and he was the one who told me first about it. I then found out about Allah Dad Noori and then I got his telephone number and spoke to him during the tour and asked him about the team and wrote stories about a team that I never saw. Later on particularly after 2004/2005 I met a member of the Afghan team and I followed them regularly since then.

Nawroz Mangal lifts the ICC Twenty20 World Cup Qualifier Trophy, UAE 2009

How do you explain their rise through cricket?
It’s quite difficult to even think that this is true. I would say I have to pinch myself to believe it. Forget about 14 years ago, I would say since 2009 when they were playing in the World Cup qualification and now the difference is huge. Back then they were naïve and thought that other teams were much higher of a standard compared to them but now they are so confident especially the way they perform. It is quite difficult to explain how that can become possible. It’s like someone put some energy drink into them and from zero they’ve become heroes. It’s unbelievable!

If there was one point that you can identify from where the team went from zeros to heroes – what would that point be?
Back in 2008 in Jersey, Afghanistan were playing in the ICC World Cricket League Division 5 and they lost the game against Singapore. The pitches in Jersey were terrible and nobody could score. I think the highest score was 150 on a dry day. They lost to Singapore and their game against Jersey was washed out and Singapore had a chance to qualify ahead of Afghanistan. They won against Afghanistan and had to play Japan I think. The Afghan team manager at that time didn’t speak English and agreed with the rest of the other teams that Singapore could play on the rest day and we would not play against Jersey and by accepting that they would have not been able to qualify for the semi-finals.

Afghanistan: Winners of the Pepsi ICC World Cricket League Division 5, 2008

I’m not taking the credit but I notified the Afghan team that this decision doesn’t make any sense. Then they realized what happened and went back and complained about the arrangement and that when Singapore is playing then Afghanistan too should play against Jersey. At the end of the day because of that washed out game, they qualified for the semi-finals, beat Nepal and managed to get to the next Division and in-between that time they changed the coach to a professional and since then everything clicked. So therefore, the rain in Jersey changed everything. In Afghanistan it is usually very dry and there is drought but in Jersey it was the rain that helped Afghanistan.

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