ICC forms group to assess the future of cricket in Afghanistan

The cricket governing body will be deciding whether Afghanistan can continue as a full member under Taliban rule.

Cricket has emerged as a powerful symbol of national unity in the country [File: Hamad I Mohammed/Reuters]

The International Cricket Council (ICC) has set up a working group to determine the future of the game in Afghanistan under the Taliban government, amid uncertainty over a possible ban of the sport.

Afghanistan’s meteoric rise in cricket in recent years has been unparalleled, but the country now risks international isolation following the Taliban takeover in August. The world governing body made the announcement about the working group on Wednesday.

Cricket Australia postponed a one-off men’s test against Afghanistan in Hobart scheduled for this month, due to uncertainties over whether the group would allow women to play.

ICC Chairman Greg Barclay said in a statement that “the ICC Board is committed to continuing to support Afghanistan Cricket to develop both men’s and women’s cricket moving forward.”

“We believe the most effective way for this to happen will be to support our member in its efforts to achieve this through its relationship with the new government,” Barclay said.

ICC had taken a wait-and-see approach on whether Afghanistan can continue as a full member, allowing it to play test matches.

Taliban officials have said they will not repeat the harsh rule of the previous Taliban government, but their return has revived memories of the group’s first stint in power from 1996 to 2001 when it imposed its harsh interpretation of Islamic law.

Positive change

Most forms of entertainment were banned – including many sports – and stadiums doubled as public execution venues.

Sports the Taliban did allow were strictly controlled and were for only for men to play and watch.

“Cricket is fortunate to be in the position to influence positive change in Afghanistan with the national men’s team a source of great pride and unity in a country with a young population that has experienced more upheaval and change than most,” Barclay added.

“We should protect that status and continue to try to influence change through the ACB [Australian Cricket Board] but will continue to closely monitor the situation and take any decisions accordingly.”

Cricket was barely known in the nation until the early 2000s, and its explosive rise in popularity was linked with conflict – the sport was picked up in Pakistan by Afghan refugees who then took it back home.

But the national team has enjoyed a remarkable rise on the international scene since then, gaining coveted Test status in 2017 and now ranked among the top 10 sides in the world in the one-day and Twenty20 formats.

In the last 20 years, it has also emerged as a powerful symbol of national unity in a country riven by civil war and the US occupation. The US forces finally withdrew from the country in August, ending its longest war.

Afghan cricketers marked it by tweeting pictures and emojis of the tri-colour national flag, which the Taliban have replaced with their white banner.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies