The human mind, fascinated as it is by an underdog’s ascent, often fails to sift the dross from legitimate tales of triumph over odds. But Afghanistan’s is a fair dinkum achievement, one that deserves many a celebratory cheer. This was sufficiently documented in the heart-warming feature documentary, Out of the Ashes (2010).

The film — while assimilating bare facts such as Afghanistan’s journey from refugee camps to attaining ODI Status and qualifying for the World T20 in 2010 — is mindful of the subtext; ‘shedding light on a nation beyond burqas, bombs, and devastation.’

Mohammad Nabi, its captain, however feels he should accept such accolades only when the team wins the Asia Cup that starts on Tuesday. “It’s such a thrill to play with the big teams,” he says, speaking to a group of journalists on Monday.

Changing conditions

Nabi is grateful for how things have improved. “A few years ago, there were no academies or grounds. There was only one ground where people rode horses, motorcycles, and played football. We would somehow play cricket as well. In the last three-four years, we have got two International grounds — at Kabul and Jalalabad. There’s also an indoor academy coming up at Kabul.”

 The 29-year-old’s confident demeanour is striking, a reflection, perhaps, of a more sound financial environment. “We had nothing before 2010. Now, people aren’t afraid of sending their sons to play.”

Nabi attributes the enhanced professionalism to the country getting its own cricket body after breaking away from the Olympic committee.

He admits it isn’t easy to remain oblivious to the violence surrounding them. “It is disturbing when you hear of shooting in the mountains or bomb blasts. We only pray that Afghanistan becomes a peace-loving nation and other countries come to play cricket here.”

It’s a sentiment echoed by the team’s hard-hitting batsman, Karim Sadiq. “I wish people’s perception about us change. We are known for our hospitality and would love to welcome foreigners.”

Rather interestingly, Sadiq and Nabi say that even the Taliban supports the team. “During the height of their powers, they insisted on us sporting beards and adhering to the Sharia. But they have always loved the cricket team. The public also dotes on us. A lot of people have named their children after us,” says Sadiq.

Nabi, flaunting a stylish drooping moustache, also remembers the time he, along with “more than 50 per cent of the team’s members” learnt the game at refugee camps in Peshawar.

“We were often taunted about trying to play when we couldn’t sustain ourselves. But those hardships made us mentally tougher. We played alongside players like Umar Gul and Yasir Hamid. ”

Indians are big draws

The Kevin Pietersen fan tells us Indian players such as M.S. Dhoni and the recently-retired Sachin Tendulkar are huge draws in Afghanistan. “I have met Dhoni. He’s a great player and a great person. I am disappointed, though, that no Afghan player was picked up in the IPL auction.”

He also reveals Afghanistan had wanted to practice in India ahead of the Asia Cup, but hadn’t received a response. “India was our first priority, but since there was no response we went to Sri Lanka.”

Sadiq hopes that the BCCI will offer greater support to Afghanistan. “India has always helped Afghanistan. We hope that will continue on the cricket front too.”

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