Afghanistan have fought and earned their place

Last Updated: Wed, Sep 19, 2012 05:41 hrs

Afghanistan's pioneering, vibrant cricketers don't have to worry about national debates on whether or not to play five bowlers; their captain is not torn apart or paid homage to every few days by the same people; their training sessions are not attended by an army of journalists and cameras and their delightful names don't slip off the tongue as easily as those of their opponents.

But they have fought stronger odds, collectively, than almost anybody else playing cricket here in Colombo and for that reason they will earn applause before the first ball is bowled and after the last one is.

When we were children there was a mystique about Kabul as there was about Beirut. The reality for both, especially for Kabul, has been rather more tragic and it is out of the rubble of a once great city that these cricketers come from. Hitting a cricket ball, or bowling it, carries with it, for them a joy that we can imagine but will never experience.

And out of that rubble they have fought and earned the right to be with the great cricket nations of the world. They have been done no service, they are here because they played better than the other qualifiers. Only sport, among the forces of our times, could have opened this door to them.

They may not yet be the equals of those they line up against in Colombo but as their coach explained they are no longer as wide-eyed as they were; there is a greater belief, an awareness that they can compete and occasionally overcome. For us, slightly sentimental, slightly filmi folk, they are the story of India's first match.

We can debate all we want about five bowlers and seven batsmen. Or we could think of the most beautiful names in world cricket and create stories around them like we did as children; names like the very Parsee sounding Nawroz Mangal and Shapoor Zadran; or Asgard Stanikzai and Izatullah Dawlatzai or the most evocative of them all, Gulbodin Naib.

In my hotel room in Colombo I just watched a YouTube clip that combined the magic of Manna Dey and Salil Chowdhury (ai mere pyaare watan.......). Like the great traveller in Tagore's story these men are Kabuliwallahs too.

More from Sify: