For all the hype ahead of Afghanistan’s maiden Test against India, at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium, had someone arrived at the venue around toss time on Thursday (June 14), they would have assumed the game was called off had they been looking only at the stands.
The ground was abuzz with activity but the stands bore no semblance to the historic occasion. Sparse as it was, there were a couple of Afghanistan flags being waved furiously. Bangalore has a fair number of Afghani college students, and they didn’t miss out on an opportunity to witness their team make history.
“We’re extremely excited to see our countrymen here,” said Mujtaba Jalal, who moved from Kabul to Bangalore three years ago. “I’m especially excited to see Rashid Khan – he is our best player. Today is a great day. We hope the match will be played in good spirit. We hope Afghanistan win.
“People back home are very happy. Everyone knows that India is a friendly country, and they are happy that our first Test is being played in India,” added the Garden City College student. “I’m sure they’re watching it live.”
Afghanistan colours painted on their faces, dressed in fine kurtas and headdresses to complete the look, a team of them were trying to talk someone selling India flags to sell them an Afghanistan flag. “No chance, sir. We only sell India flags!”
Durani the cynosure
On the historic occasion, the Board of Control for Cricket in India invited Salim Durani for the coin toss. The 84-year-old, who played 29 Tests for India, is the only Afghanistan-born player to represent India.
Durani also presented Asghar Stanikzai, the Afghanistan skipper, with a memento. Besides Durani, Dave Richardson, the chief executive of the International Cricket Council, Rajyavardhan Rathore, India’s Sports Minister, Amitabh Choudhary, the secretary of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, and Atif Mashal, the Afghanistan Cricket Board chairman, were present.
They were visibly disappointed, but no sooner did they start brooding than another friend brought forth a plastic cover with a few flags and some cardboard sheets to write on. They beamed. Draped in their ‘beloved’ flag, they walked to the stands and blended in with the crowd.
If it wasn’t for the painted faces and in some cases, a flag, you couldn’t tell most Afghanistan fans from the others at the stadium. One fan, though, stood apart.
Dressed in black with ‘Rashid’ written across his cheeks, Anees, who travelled from Hyderabad for the game, sat right behind the sightscreen while the legspinner turned his arm over for the first time in Test cricket. Anees seemed quite nervous. “I am quite close to Rashid. I have plenty of photos with him too. We played together when we were in Nangarhar (Rashid’s from the same province) before I moved to India four years ago. He was always very good with his cricket, but God blessed him and he is where he is now. I am so happy that he has come this far.”
Living outside of war-torn Afghanistan may be of some comfort to a large portion of them here but it isn’t easy to entirely escape the hardships encountered, for their immediate families are still battling life and death on a daily basis. News travels quickly within the circles, and a Facebook group that brings Afghanis in Bangalore together only aids the process. On the trending list in the group at the moment is if everyone back home is safe after the suicide bombing in Kabul earlier this week. The news is good, no known member is hurt or killed. The icing on the cake is that their ‘brothers’ are part of the first ever Test squad.
“There were blasts in Kabul two days back, but it’s time to forget about the problems back home. Cricket matches like this will bring some peace of mind for us. Cricket motivates us to pursue peace. There is hope for the new generation,” said Reshad Ahmad, a 23-year-old from Kunar Province.
Although their team didn’t do as hoped initially, none of the fans turned away, and their patience was rewarded as Afghanistan fought back gallantly. They looked on with stars in their eyes and a chest full of pride. For a change, the focus wasn’t on what was happening back home, it was about what was unfolding on a memorable day in Bangalore.