During the Bangladesh-Afghanistan match in Fatullah last Saturday, there was a striking image of a cluster of people in white swaying with colourful flags wrapped around them. Their boisterous chants compelled heads to turn in the direction of Gate No. 6 at the Khan Shaheb Osman Ali Stadium.
On visiting the stand, we found young women attired in white t-shirts and jeans, their heads nestled in hijabs, and cheeks smeared with thepaint of the Afghanistan flag. “Afghanistan, perozi az aane mast,” their full-throated screams rent the air. “In Dari language, it means‘Afghanistan, victory is ours’,” informed Mursal.
Along with 23 young, intrepid Afghan women — all of whom are students of the Asian University for Women in Chittagong — Mursal had undertaken the trip to Fatullah to cheer for her team.
“We follow cricket. This is the weekend and we had no classes. We knew the [Afghanistan] team was playing, so we came,” said the 21 year-old, who's a Liberal Arts scholar at the University, studying Politics, Philosophy and Economics (PPE).
Mursal, hailing from Kabul, was happy that the team had made rapid strides. It’s a sentiment that Fatima Hashimi, a fellow PPE student and native of Kabul, shared. “Football has been the top sport in Afghanistan. Cricket has become popular only since 2009. I am very excited to be here. The players probably did not even imagine that Afghan students live in Bangladesh.”
It is evident that, in showing up to root for their team, they were also striking a blow for a liberal outlook towards women in their country. “We want to break gender discrimination against women. We have our families’ support to come here, that's why we are here,” said Mursal.
Fatima agreed with her friend. “Afghanistan is conservative, but the younger generation has the courage to change those invalid ideas and beliefs.”
Cricket has also brought together women of different ethnicities. “I can’t remember what has united us in the past like sport has now. We are mostly Hazaras here, but there are also Pashtuns and Tajiks,” said Mursal. Fatima added that Afghans from different provinces came together in the University.
As Samiullah Shenwari and Asghar Stanikzai cracked one six after another, they instantly went up: “Shenwari...Stanikzai, Shenwari...Stanikzai”.
Who were their favourite cricketers in the side? “The captain, Mohammad Nabi, and Shenwari... they are very good,” said a smiling Mursal.
As the floodlights illuminated the stadium, the trip assumed an even greater significance for the young bunch as Afghanistan won its first game against a Test-playing nation.
The epochal evening was more than an ‘I was there’ moment for these women as they partook in Afghanistan's finest cricketing hour.