And it was last Thursday that I found myself in Ahmedabad.
Amul’s sponsorship of the Afghanistan cricket team allowed me a ringside view of a bunch of heroes recovering from the loss of a game they should easily have won—albeit on the losing side, they were one half of the greatest ODI match ever. But, this was cold comfort at the moment.
The room was quiet, 15 men lost in their own thoughts, an elephant in the room, of what might have been a collective mourning almost, “We should’ve got the Aussies, we could’ve got the Aussies, we could have been in the semi-finals”
When you’re a giant killer, having dismantled three former World Cup winners, Pakistan, England and Sri Lanka, that lie vanquished at your feet… there’s an initial disbelief… “How can we have lost from the dominant position we were in?” Disappointment, because this is no more a fledgling cricket team, but a real contender, that too in just a few years.
“Hindsight is easy,” team mentor, Ajay Jadeja told me, when I asked if there was anything the “men in blue with a touch of red” could have done differently while bowling to Glenn Maxwell.
The man was hobbling, virtually batting like an ostrich on one leg, couldn’t Rashid and co have tried something else—flight it, bowl wide of the stumps, make the Aussie reach painfully for the ball, bounce him out, target Cummins. Did inexperience kick in? At 91 for 7, seeking to deliver that killer blow, you sensed in that moment, when Maxi survived the DRS and the dolly dropped catch, the Afghanis heads drooped as one, and a panic spread amongst the eleven. Finger pointing, blaming, scattered minds.
“I had talked to them about belief before the match, quoting from the holy scriptures,” Jadeja said. But as he himself saw, belief in the cocoon of a dressing room is one thing, belief in the cauldron of a packed stadium quite another—and as the 200 run target diminished bit by bit, focus was sacrificed at the altar of desperation—as the “storm on one leg”, swatted ball by ball over the boundary, watching the opposition implode.
At what point will the Afghanis believe that victory was theirs in this World Cup— one Mad Max doesn’t alter the course of your journey… this goes beyond a single game, however heart breaking?
At what point will it be decided if Wednesday’s loss at Wankhede, will it harden or soften these bravehearts? Because there is a much deeper story at play here… a larger history of a war-torn land, of an occupied territory, of the Persians, the Mongols, the British, the Soviets and a US led coalition, all leading military operations on Afghani soil, at some point or other.
These men come from war, they come from Taliban. They come from AK 47s blazing outside their homes, they come from a topography overrun by tanks and earthquakes, both made-made and natural.
“Every time we win a match, it is the only happiness our country feels,” one player tells me.
These are 15 boy-men, forced to grow up long before their time.
They’ve made the world see Afghanistan differently, more than just a Taliban-run state, more than just a nation of refugees. Every Azmatullah Ormazai has a story to tell. Of growing up with bombs going off all around him.
Afghanistan is predominantly mountainous, but these men, have climbed halfway up the mountain.
Jadeja, pride in his eyes, talked to me of a team that has “just begun to open its arms… if they’ve opened themselves just a little, can you imagine what they will be like when they reach full potential, a few years from now?”
The Rahmats and the Rashids, idolised on Kabul’s streets, as gully cricket makes its way into folklore.
These are the true gods of carnage. One game-changing innings cannot alter that. The wounds may take a while to heal, but no scars should remain.
Rahul daCunha is an adman, theatre director/playwright, photographer and traveller. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org