Afghans don't let war get in way of cricket

Team travels to Pakistan to play in tournament

October 16, 2001|By CHICAGO TRIBUNE

PESHAWAR, Pakistan - Their country is under bombardment and their nation under siege, but the members of the Afghan national cricket team turned up here on schedule to play in a Pakistani tournament beginning yesterday, strolling onto a dusty pitch in the town of Peshawar in their pressed white uniforms as though there were nothing more important in the world than the game ahead.

In some ways, there wasn't. There is a golden rule that nothing can be allowed to get in the way of a cricket match, not even war, and it is a reflection of the importance of cricket in Afghanistan that the team was allowed to come at all, for the first match of the trophy contest against local club Nowshera.

Afghan team captain Allah Dad Noori, a bearded, towering man of few words who lives in a suburb of Kabul, said he hoped the match would remind the world that many Afghans would rather play cricket than wage war.

"Sport is an ambassador of peace," he said. "Those who play cricket are not involved in war."

Under Afghanistan's Taliban rulers, nearly all forms of entertainment have been banned as un-Islamic, including movies, card games and music. But cricket, the most enduring legacy of the British empire in this part of the world, has survived to become one of Afghanistan's most popular national pastimes.

Until last year, the Afghan national team was obliged to play in traditional Islamic dress. But in a nod to the game's popularity, the Taliban relented and permitted players to adopt Western-style white flannel pants and shirts. They must still grow beards and cover their heads, but baseball caps are now allowed instead of Islamic-style caps, which don't block the sun during hours of play.

These days, the only distinguishing feature of an Afghan cricket match is that spectators are not allowed to clap when their team does well. Instead, they are expected to shout "Allah Akhbar," or God is great.

At precisely a quarter to three, the teams broke for afternoon tea, in true cricket custom.

Both teams were much too polite to mention to one another how their countries ended up on opposite sides of the war against terrorism.

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