Before you start criticising us for getting carried away and not appreciating the depths of the problems facing a war-torn nation, let us just say that those aren’t our words. They’re the words of Afghanistan’s minister of finance, Dr Omar Zakhilwal and you’d hope he’d have half an idea what was going on over there.
This is what Zakhilwal said before Afghanistan’s first one-day international against Pakistan:
“There is nothing that can touch cricket in popularity or as a force for good in Afghanistan. There is absolutely nothing else that mobilises our society in the same way. Not politics, political events or reconstruction. Between 80-90% of kids will be watching this game and they play it on every street. President Karzai is watching and has phoned several times to get the latest news. Even the opposition Taliban have sent a message of support. Their spokesman said we are praying for the success of the team.”
We don’t know too much about repairing society. Shunning it maybe, but not repairing it. We do have a great deal of faith in cricket as a means of bringing people together though.
It’s a game where differences are half the point. Different playing conditions, different roles on the field, different styles of play. And yet everybody involved in cricket has something in common – the sport itself.
We’re not going to make any outlandish claims about what the sport can achieve – we’ll leave that to senior figures in the Afghanistan government – but we do think that people who follow cricket generally have a healthy interest in other cultures.
Cricket people seem less insular. A recent example of this was when Sky’s David Lloyd was joking with Saeed Ajmal before a day’s play in Dubai. Ajmal has pretty rudimentary English, David Lloyd is perhaps the most Lancastrian man in existence and yet here they were having a whale of a time.
We can’t imagine they have an enormous amount to say to each other, but they share cricket and a sense of humour. It was pretty clear afterwards that Lloyd absolutely loves Ajmal and we’d be surprised if Ajmal didn’t feel similarly about Lloyd.
It’s healthy to follow cricket. You can use that argument next time there’s a match on and you can’t be bothered putting up that shelf.
By the way, for a bit of background about cricket in Afghanistan, you could do a lot worse than watching Out of the Ashes.