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‘Cricket is the only source of happiness back home’: Afghans celebrate big win

By Dearbail Jordan, BBC News

Afghans have been celebrating their country’s surprise cricketing victory over Australia at the T20 World Cup in the West Indies.

Footage from the city of Khost near the border with Pakistan showed hundreds of people celebrating in the streets.

It was the first time Afghanistan had triumphed over the cricketing superpower – and all the more surprising given that at the turn of the century, the country didn’t even have a national team.

Collecting the player-of-the-match award, Afghanistan’s Gulbadin Naib said: “It is a great moment, not only for me but my nation, my people.”

Meanwhile, captain Rashid Khan said the win would “give people back home so much hope”.

“Cricket is the only source of happiness back home, you all know that,” he said.

The first recorded cricket match in Afghanistan took place in 1839 when imperial British troops took a break from the Anglo-Afghan War to crack leather on willow in Kabul.

However, it wasn’t until the mid-1990s that cricket began to take root in Afghanistan, cultivated by Afghans who had been in refugee camps in Pakistan and returned to their birthplace with a passion for the game.

The Afghan Cricket Board (ACB) was set up in 1995, the year before the Taliban began its first stint in power.

The national team was established after the Taliban was ousted by the US-led invasion of 2001 and became a member of the International Cricket Council (ICC) in 2017.

The team plays wearing the black, red, and green flag rather than the white flag adopted by the country’s Taliban government after it swept back to power in 2021. They play home matches in the United Arab Emirates under a five-year agreement.

Many countries do not recognise the Taliban government, which has restricted Afghan women’s ability to work, learn and go out in public. However, in January Chinese President Xi Jinping accepted ambassador credentials from the Taliban-appointed representative of Afghanistan.

The Taliban also appointed its head of the ACB, Naseeb Khan, after taking power.

The country’s restrictions on women have seen the national team boycotted by some countries. In March Australia pulled out of a three-match series that was scheduled to take place in the UAE in August – the third time it has declined to play Afghanistan.

Cricket Australia said government advice was that conditions for Afghan women and girls “are getting worse” but said Australia would play Afghanistan in tournaments.

Female cricketer Firooza Afghan – who like most of the country’s women’s team was granted an emergency visa to Australia after the Taliban came to power – posted her reaction to the Afghan victory.

“Congratulations to all Afghans. You made history. Be happy, celebrate. Now the world is yours,” she posted after the win.

“Same country, same sport, same talent, same goal, same ability – but you cannot play because you are a woman,” she added.

Rashid Khan’s side are now firmly back in contention to reach the T20 World Cup semi-finals and face Bangladesh in their last Super 8s game (Tuesday, 00:30 GMT).