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Afghanistan's Inaugural Test Cricket Match in India Dubbed Historic


Afghanistan's cricket team captain Asghar Stanikzai (C), Afghanistan cricket team coach Phil Simmons (L) and Afghanistan's National Team Manager Shir Agha Hamkar address a news conference in Bengaluru, India, June 13, 2018.

Even before the match between India and Afghanistan got underway in the southern Indian city of Bengaluru, it was dubbed "historic." It is the inaugural cricket test match being played by war-ravaged Afghanistan.

The match is a milestone for Afghanistan whose sportsmen have persevered, despite conflict and tough conditions at home, to emerge on the international cricketing arena. Last year, Afghanistan became one of 12 countries that qualified for the five-day format played by the world's cricketing elite.

As their first face-off began against the top-ranked Indian team, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said in a message, "I am proud of the men who championed cricket in Afghanistan in the dawn of the century and believed in themselves that one day Afghanistan will play against the best in the world." He called for other Test-playing nations to take on the team.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted "may sports continue to bring our people closer and strengthen ties."

Afghanistan's Rashid Khan, right appeals unsuccessfully for the wicket of India's Dinesh Karthik, center partly seen, during their one-off cricket test match in Bangalore, India, June 14, 2018.
Afghanistan's Rashid Khan, right appeals unsuccessfully for the wicket of India's Dinesh Karthik, center partly seen, during their one-off cricket test match in Bangalore, India, June 14, 2018.

As players got down to wielding the bat and ball on Thursday, there was plenty of goodwill on display between two countries that have built close ties. Top officials were in the stands and Indian Sports Minister Rajyavardhan Rathore shook hands with Afghan players before the match.

The Afghan players exuded confidence and called it a proud moment. "We are not feeling nervous," the captain of the Afghan team, Asghar Stanikzai, told a news conference on the eve of the match. "We feel we are well prepared."

He said his team and the people at home were excited about playing the number-one ranked side in their first test.

Afghan cricket grew out of refugee camps in Pakistan where many Afghans lived after fleeing the conflict in their country in the 1980s and 1990s and where cricket, as in much of South Asia, is often played on the streets.

The game has not been spared the violence and bomb attacks that the country routinely endures. Last month a terror strike at a sports stadium in Jalalabad during a cricket match, killed eight people and wounded dozens.

An unidentified player of Afghanistan cricket team covers himself with a towel as he runs for shelter during sudden rains at a training session ahead of one-off test match against India in Bangalore, India, June 13, 2018.
An unidentified player of Afghanistan cricket team covers himself with a towel as he runs for shelter during sudden rains at a training session ahead of one-off test match against India in Bangalore, India, June 13, 2018.

In recent years, cricket has become yet another area building goodwill and cementing ties between Afghanistan and India. New Delhi has a $2 billion economic cooperation program with Kabul that focuses on building roads, infrastructure and other development projects.

Many Afghan players have been trained in India since 2015. Being unable to host an international match in its own country, New Delhi has also provided the venue for the Afghan team to play matches against Ireland and Bangladesh.

And while the Indian team got off to a strong start before rain interrupted play on Thursday, this is one match whose significance will go beyond the score.

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