Indian cricketers Virat Kohli, Shikhar Dhawan and out of favour Ishant Sharma have a huge following among the Afghans living in the Capital.
Many Afghan nationals living in New Delhi believe their cricket team’s victory over Test-playing Bangladesh on Saturday will do a world of good to enhance the game’s popularity in their home country which is “largely agnostic” about it despite the encouraging strides made by its cricketers.
On Sunday, The Hindu spoke to several residents of the two South Delhi neighbourhoods of Jangpura and Lajpat Nagar which are home to many Afghan nationals, who come to India as refugees or medical tourists. The youngsters among them are getting attracted to cricket, even competing regularly at the local level.
They talked about being glued to the television throughout the match and said the sweet taste of the victory will linger for many days to come. They described it as a well deserved result and one whose impact will transcend much beyond this Asia Cup.
“Most had written off our team even before the Asia Cup began but I don’t think it was an upset as it is being described. Among the Associate Members we stood out and results notwithstanding, the team had shown a lot of promise in the few encounters with stronger teams in the past as well. It was something that was waiting to happen. I am rooting for them to repeat the performance against Sri Lanka (on Monday),” said Ajab Khan, a student of Dyal Singh College.
Twenty two-year-old Omid, who runs an Afghan bread shop in Bhogal Market, said he received congratulatory messages for what has been the biggest achievement for the team in its limited cricketing history. However, he missed the celebrations in Mazar-i-Sharif, his home town.
While Asghar Stanikzai and Samiullah Shenwari drew praises for their 164-run-stand for the sixth wicket that was pivotal in ensuring a 32-run victory over the hosts, many picked the team’s Captain Mohammad Nabi and left-arm pacer Shapoor Zadran as their favourites. Indian cricketers Virat Kohli, Shikhar Dhawan and out of favour Ishant Sharma have a huge following among the Afghans living in the Capital.
Many hoped that after this performance, they might see their heroes in action with other stars in the future editions of the Indian Premier League. They also wished that the Afghanistan government would work to provide better infrastructure and incentives.
Ajab explained that even though football had the numero uno status among all sports in Afghanistan, cricket was more popular among the Pushto-speaking population than the Dari speakers. Cricket in Afghanistan is essentially a by-product of the “war on terror” as those who went to Pakistan as refugees introduced it back home upon their return.
But when it comes to picking their favourite international side besides Afghanistan, a majority pick India. The reason, they claim, is simply the love for cricket.