Peaks and blimps
When I was coaching the team, we went to Hong Kong for the Intercontinental Cup. On a day off, we climbed Victoria Peak, which looks over the city. It was warm and muggy, as Hong Kong weather tends to be, and it was pretty hard work getting to the top.
The boys are usually good at that sort of stuff. Afghanistan is full of hills and most of the fellas are conditioned to walking up and down inclines. But they were certainly blowing after the walk. I know I was!
When we got to the top, the thought struck me that our morning had been a great metaphor for what these boys had been through. Any cricketer in the world playing at international standard has been through trials and tribulations. But there is a different dimension to what these boys have been through. Sheer determination is at the heart of their struggle.
A kid like Rashid has known nothing but life in a war zone. Yet, he has never accepted no for an answer. He is kind, considerate and always has a smile on his face. He applies himself to his game with incredible determination. He is fit and strong.
He is always willing to speak to goras – white people, like me – and pick their brains about how to get more out of his cricket and life in general. He is a magnificent cricketer who will captain Afghanistan in years to come and will take them to the next level.
Some of guys he plays with at home don’t earn 50 bucks a month, but Rashid has shown them what’s possible. His IPL contract with Sunrisers Hyderabad is worth about a million a season.
Take that in: a 20-year-old from Afghanistan is the best Twenty20 bowler in world cricket. I think it’s an achievement that should be celebrated right across the game.
I got only a small taste of what life has been like for Rashid and his Afghanistan teammates. But it made a big impact on me. They live with fear everyday or, at least, things most people would find unusual. In Kabul, for example, when you look to the sky at any time of day you see three or four gigantic blimps cruising over the city.
They’re scanning for any signs of something amiss, something threatening or dangerous. They’re taking photos, using x-ray cameras, infrared – who knows? They are security blimps put up there by the United States.
Looking up and seeing those aircraft felt eerie to me and I can’t decide if I felt safer or more unsettled because of them. But the people of Kabul are unmoved. They carry on as if the blimps aren’t there.
A Legitimate power
These experiences and memories have given me an unshakeable respect for Afghanistan, its people and its cricketers. I like to play golf. Cruising up and down fairways, breathing fresh air and challenging myself to get better at the game serves as a perfect tonic for the pressures I go through in my everyday life.
But these days, when I get out onto the course, I have that little bit extra appreciation for the peace I and most Australians have always taken as a given.
Afghanistan’s determination to join the cricketing world is something we should all celebrate during the BBL this summer and beyond. Despite all the obstacles, they’ve built a decent system of first-class cricket. They now have five first-class grounds and are becoming a legitimate T20 power, ranked above Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and others.
There will be more to come. There is exceptional raw talent within their ranks that just needs to be polished. It takes a little while – India took 45 Tests before they claimed their first win. What Afghanistan has done inside the past two years has been nothing short of remarkable.