Afghan cricket goes to
school By Farangis Najibullah
and Safiullah Stanikzai
Cricket was one of
the few sports in Afghanistan to survive the rule
of the Taliban. Now, the wildly popular sporting
import is poised to leave the playground and enter
the classroom. Afghanistan's Education Ministry is
teaming up with the country's cricket board (ACB)
to make cricket a compulsory class in Afghan
schools as early as January.
the board's chief executive officer, Bashir
Stanikzai, the idea is to help develop the sport
in Afghanistan, spot talent, and turn the country
into a force in the international cricketing
"We want to develop cricket in a
proper way, and schools will be a big project," he
says. "If we succeed in developing cricket in
schools, we are quite
sure that we will get good players in the country.
And it will have a social value as well,
especially for those who love this game but don't
get a chance to play."
Cricket came into
its own only recently after it found acceptance
under the hard-line Islamist regime. After the
Taliban's fall in 2001 the sport flourished when
the children of Afghan refugees returned to the
country after learning to play cricket in
Since the national
cricket squad was first formed in 2001,
Afghanistan has shown that it has the potential to
become a major player. In 2010, it secured
qualification to the prestigious 2010 World
Twenty20 competition (a fast, shortened form of
the game). Now, there is even talk that
Afghanistan's cricketers could soon achieve
test-playing status, a ranking restricted to the
world's best sides for games played over five
National heroes Although
Afghanistan has not yet established a national
cricket league, it regularly organizes domestic
tournaments among the country's numerous clubs.
The matches usually attract a full house of
spectators, many of whom regard cricket players as
national heroes. A recent nationwide survey
indicated that nearly 75% of respondents consider
cricket their favorite sport. Many of those
questioned supported the idea of cricket being
taught in schools.
In October, the board
organized its first month-long training classes
for potential cricket instructors and similar
trainings for coaches and umpires are due to start
on December 15.
"We are sending cricket
kits for students that consist of plastic bats and
balls, and other cricket equipment especially made
for children," Stanikzai says.
Some of the
country's top professionals are willing to lend a
helping hand. Noorulhaq Malekzai, the captain of
the Kabul-based Al-Masafi team, says he "would be
more than happy" to assist the coaches. Malekzai,
a batsman who has represented his country in
numerous international tournaments, believes
officials "should not wait until all conditions
are perfect" to launch their plan. "If there is a
will to play, you can play cricket with the most
basic equipment," he says. "As they say, 'just do
it. There are so many children eager to play
cricket. You can see them playing in the streets,
Many schools have small sports grounds. In the
beginning, a pair of bats, a pair of balls, a pair
of leg pads, and uniforms should be enough for an
entire team of players. Of course, it's a far cry
from international standards, but it is just
enough to start professional careers in cricket."
'Like a dream come
true' Officials have yet to work out the
details, such as what age group they should target
and how many hours a week the children should be
taught cricket during physical education classes.
The ACB and the education ministry are expected to
finalize arrangements "within days" before
starting the first cricket lessons at several
schools across five provinces in January.
Kabul, Kandahar, Khost, Konduz, and
Nangarhar provinces have been chosen due to their
relatively developed cricket infrastructure. By
the end of 2013, the project is expected to expand
into six more provinces.
"We hope these
schools will be a success story and serve as a
role model to the rest of the country," Stanikzai
Fitratullah, a young boy who like
many Afghans goes by one name, looks forward to
that day. But for now he and his friends are
honing their skills with a homemade bat on a dusty
road in the eastern town of Jalalabad.
have only two special cricket academies in the
province and they don't have space for everyone
and besides they charge money," Fitratullah says.
"If cricket becomes a school subject for free, it
would be like a dream come true for many kids."
Written and reported by Farangis
Najibullah with additional reporting by
RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan correspondent