There were happy faces all around, brimming with love and passion for the U-19 boys, most of whom were unknown to these fans. © Wisden India

There were happy faces all around, brimming with love and passion for the U-19 boys, most of whom were unknown to these fans. © Wisden India

Remember those times when fans would barge onto the ground at the end of cricket matches? Australia’s Keith Boyce was pushed down, and he had his shoes pulled off, while Jeff Thomson’s pads were snatched away in an incident at Lord’s after the 1975 World Cup final. Terry Alderman broke his shoulder in a more violent invasion in 1982 at the WACA. Steve Waugh was heckled after a One-Day International in Guyana that ended in a tie, and then of course, the famous deluge of Pakistani fans at Edgbaston and Headingley in 2001, which injured a steward and led to the cricket board announcing a £1,000 fine for anyone who stepped into the field without authority.

On Saturday (January 13) evening in Whangarei, Afghan fans raided Cobham Oval seconds after Darwish Rasooli smashed a six to seal a five-wicket win over Pakistan in the 2018 Under-19 World Cup. A sea of people – mostly dressed in blue jerseys and wearing face-paint in the national colours (red, green and black) – rushed in with flags, and mobile phones with their front cameras on for selfies to celebrate the emphatic win.

The organisers were flabbergasted by the unexpected charge from the crowd, but there were no intentions of hurting or heckling anybody. For these intruders, it was all about putting out their emotions. There were happy faces all around, brimming with love and passion for the U-19 boys, most of whom were unknown to these fans.

“We don’t know these boys, but mashallah, what a match they have played, beating Pakistan with so much ease. This is the third time they have beaten this team in the last one month, right?”

Khairullah, who moved from Lashkar Gah to Manukau some years ago, is an avid cricket fan, and he is almost spot on with that piece of stat. Afghanistan U-19 have indeed beaten Pakistan U-19 thrice in a row – twice in the ACC U-19 Asia Cup, including the final, and now – but it has been just over a month since that first win.

But we’ll cut him some slack for that one. Come on! How many Indian or Pakistani cricket fans – considered globally among the most passionate of all – do you think are even aware of the recent forms of their national U-19 sides? Hardly any is the answer.“Fans follow us in every country, and it feels really good to have them back our players – it is quite enjoyable,” gushed Naveen-ul-Haq, the Afghanistan captain, who had opened up the floodgates for his side to dominate with two quick wickets in the morning. But is he used to them storming the field like this after every match?

“Not really, no. We are not used to seeing them storm the field like this every time like this, but somehow we knew they were going to run in to the field today,” he admitted, with a chuckle.

Abdullah Sayed, who represented Afghanistan at the 2010 Under-19 World Cup and even played in the Shpageeza League in the country, has now switched professions and lives in Auckland. On the eve of Afghanistan’s win, he told Wisden India that he expected members from the sizeable Pakistani community in Auckland to turn up, and maybe even outnumber the Afghans on match-day. But that clearly wasn’t the case, with only a handful of green jerseys visible across the sea of blue.

Afghan fans raided Cobham Oval seconds after Darwish Rasooli smashed a six to seal a five-wicket win over Pakistan in the 2018 Under-19 World Cup. © Wahidullah Waissi‏

Afghan fans raided Cobham Oval seconds after Darwish Rasooli smashed a six to seal a five-wicket win over Pakistan in the 2018 Under-19 World Cup. © Wahidullah Waissi‏

“I think most of their community probably went off to watch the senior national team’s game in Dunedin,” explained Sayed, referring to the third ODI between Pakistan and New Zealand, where Trent Boult decimated the visiting side to bowl them out for just 74. “Tomorrow we have a small gathering arranged for the U-19 boys. Our community members, like I told you yesterday, most of them went all the way to support them. They have organised a barbeque for the team after their training session. Today, the players shared lunch with members of our community here. To be honest, all Afghans love the cricket. Beating Pakistan is a big achievement for us. They made six changes in their side after losing to us in the Asia Cup, but look, we still won!”

Sayed had to rush back to Auckland (a 160 km drive) after the match to get some work done, but he promises to be back for the third league match, against Ireland U-19 on January 20.

“I had some meetings on Friday too, but I went off to Whangarei because I couldn’t miss this match. I will, unfortunately, have to give the match against Sri Lanka (on Tuesday) a miss, but I will be back for the next game to cheer for the boys.”

Afghanistan, in their own sweet way, have kept alive that good ol' feel of cricket, lovely cricket. © Wisden India

Afghanistan, in their own sweet way, have kept alive that good ol’ feel of cricket, lovely cricket. © Wisden India

The support for Afghanistan wherever they play is generally just as spirited and heartwarming.

From visuals in Out of the Ashes, the 2010 documentary on Afghan cricket, where an amateur side under Taj Malik’s tutelage travels abroad for the first time to play in the WCL Division five tournament, to players carrying Kabir Khan on their shoulders after qualifying for the 2015 World Cup – there have been moments in the short history of Afghan cricket that has left the fans of the sport smiling. 

This day, when 200-odd people came to watch an U-19 side pull off a win, and raided the ground in joy, left another beautiful feeling in the hearts of the neutral audience. Afghanistan, in their own sweet way, have kept alive that good ol’ feel of cricket, lovely cricket.