It’s a sunny Friday afternoon and more than 150 Afghan students, holding their national flags in hands, eagerly take their seats in the North Pavilion Stands at the IS Bindra PCA Stadium to watch a warm-up match of the ICC World T20 between Afghanistan and the Netherlands. Being their first opportunity to see their national cricket team play an international match, the group, which also includes more than 10 girls, does not want to miss any action.
The group erupts into cheer as Afghanistan skipper Asghar Stannizikari takes strike. “We have not seen our cricket team play at this level before. Luckily, our national team got its matches allotted here in Mohali. So most of us contacted each other and came to watch the match. Back home in Kabul, a lot of youngsters play cricket at the Chaman Hazuri ground; the last five years have seen a lot of kids playing cricket. But cheering for our national team will be our biggest memory of India,” said 19-year-old Nooruidin Hashmi, who is studying in BA-I at SGGS Khalsa College, Sector 26, Chandigarh.
Hashmi’s elder sister Pakiza Hashmi, who studies at the SGGS College for Women in BA-II, too, has come to watch the match with friends Awista, Nasrin, Tahmina, Lima, Nelofar, Muzhgban, Shukria and Khatera. Most of them belong to Kabul and Herat apart from Paktia province in Afghanistan. They study at the MCM DAV College, PGGCG-11 and SGGS College for Women.
Interestingly, all the maiden overs have been bowled by fast bowler Shapoor Razdan. “Of course, we know about fast bowler Shapoor Razdan and we see matches on TV sometimes,” said Pakiza.
Moments later, the girls are joined by another group and they cheer in Pushto and wave the Afghan flag towards the TV cameras.
For M Siddique Shenwari, whose father is a police officer in Jalalabad, it is also a chance to see his neighbour all-rounder Samiuulah Shenwari in action. Samiuulah played a knock of 42 runs on Friday and it was a moment to remember for Shenwari, 24.
“He is my neighbour in Jalalabad but we have not seen him play in Afghanistan as there are rarely any international matches in Kabul. A lot of youngsters play cricket in the Ghazi Amanullah Cricket Stadium in Jalalabad and we used to watch them in the city. We really hope that the team wins its matches in the qualifying stages and plays in the main round. We will watch them play in other Indian cities then,” said Shenwari, who studies in BBA at PGG College, Sector 11, Chandigarh.
Friends Shakirullah and Arman Shenwari watch the match eagerly and their talk revolves around Indian batting star Virat Kohli. “Virat is a superstar in Kabul. The way he plays is tremendous and most of the youngsters want to bat like him. Apart from him, we are huge fans of M S Dhoni. Even our wicketkeeper tries to play like Dhoni. Most of the Afghan students watch Indian cricket team on television and apart from Bollywood actors, cricketers are admired by people in Kabul and other cities,” said 22-year-old Arman, who studies in BA-II at SGGS Khalsa College, Chandigarh.