Flags, tears, anthem: How Afghans celebrated their cricket win

Afghanistan’s win over Scotland in T20 World Cup gave Afghan people reason for joy and hope after two turbulent months.

Afghanistan's Rashid Khan (C) celebrates with teammates after taking the wicket of Scotland's Brad Wheal (not pictured) during the ICC's Twenty20 World Cup cricket match between Afghanistan and Scotland at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium in Sharjah on October 25, 2021 [Aamir Qureshi/AFP]

Kabul, Afghanistan – Afghanistan erupted in celebration on Monday evening, with those following the national cricket team sharing a rare moment of joy with a 130-run win over Scotland in the T20 World Cup.

Afghans, those abroad and the ones in the country, including hundreds of people who have been displaced in the two months since the Taliban takeover, celebrated the win in Sharjah, the national team’s first outing since the fall of the Afghan government.

For Afghan athletes, the victory was a mix of emotions.

Marzieh Hamidi, a female Taekwondo athlete who has been unable to compete since the Taliban came to power, said that the victory comes at a precarious time for the nation’s athletes.

As a female fighter, Hamidi is afraid for the future of her sport but said she was still overtaken by joy.

“At this time, when everyone is at the height of distress and worry, we all shed tears of happiness and pain to see our cricket team come out on top,” the 19-year-old told Al Jazeera.

Supporters watch the T20 World Cup match between Afghanistan and Scotland on television in Kabul [Hoshang Hashimi/AFP]

But she said that, unlike previous wins, the celebration was confined to inside people’s houses.

“If only we could have taken the happiness to the streets,” she said.

In 2013, when the national football team won the South Asia Cup, the streets of the capital, Kabul, and other cities were filled with thousands of revellers waving the Afghan flag and playing the national anthem from their cars.

Masie Hajizada, owner of one of Kabul’s most popular restaurants, said Monday’s triumph was another example that despite decades of war and destruction, the Afghan people are still capable of unbelievable feats.

“Last night, we were all filled with laughter, tears, happiness and hope. I guarantee, whether in business, sports, whatever, the potential of the Afghan people will surprise the world. The success of our cricket team is just another reminder of that,” Hajizada told Al Jazeera.

To others, the politics of a game that has been passed down to so many nations through their ties with the British Empire, is not lost.

Gul Ahmadzai, an entrepreneur who splits his time between Afghanistan and Tanzania, took the win as an opportunity to remind the world that Afghanistan defeated the British in three separate wars.

“Afghanistan never became part of the empire, and even though we may be a de facto state at the moment, we still won. What other country can say that?” Ahmadzai told Al Jazeera.

From the outset, the match seemed to stir emotions as Afghans expressed their sense of elation and longing for hearing the nation’s national anthem ahead of the match itself.

“Just seeing our flag and hearing the national anthem play from the stadium gave us a sense of hope,” Hamidi, the female Taekwondo fighter, said.

one and a half minute clip of the team’s 15 men, still donning jerseys emblazoned with the tri-colour flag of the country and the kingdom before it, was shared across Afghan social media.

Many of the posts pointed out the final moments of the clip, when the team captain Mohammad Nabi could be seen wiping his tears.

“Watching this video surely made millions of #Afghans cry. This time, it’s not for happiness but it’s for the lost dreams and achievements,” Rateb Noori, a journalist who is currently seeking asylum in Europe, posted on Twitter.

Ariana Alyas, an Afghan Australian, was one of thousands of Afghans watching from abroad. Like so many others, she too was moved by the flag and the anthem.

“Seeing that beautiful flag in the stadium with the national anthem was truly mesmerising. It was a huge victory, especially given what Afghans had been through in the previous two months. The team has done us proud and I wish them all the best,” the 23-year-old biomedical scientist told Al Jazeera.

Even outside Afghanistan, the match managed to bring joy to Afghans who fled the nation soon after the Taliban takeover.

In Qatar, the match was broadcast for hundreds of refugees waiting for resettlement at a US military camp.

Edris Lutfi, who has been in the camp for three weeks now, said having the match projected on a big screen fulfilled the immediate need of distraction for hundreds of people who spend their days waiting for the day they can finally head to their final destinations.

But it was the victory that led to an “ecstatic” reaction, he said.

Again, it was the presence of a giant black, red and green Afghan flag that led to feelings of happiness and surprise among the hundreds of people gathered in the hangar.

People carry the national flag at a protest held during Afghanistan’s Independence Day in Kabul [File: Reuters]

Lutfi said he was shocked to see a friend of his waving the oversized flag, recalling that when they fled the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif in September, they were told to only bring a backpack filled with clothes on the flight to Doha.

When he inquired about the origins of the flag, another friend of his waiting to go to the United States recounted the story of taking it from the owners of the guest house they were all staying in while waiting on news of flights out of the country.

“The guest house owner had taken it down when the Taliban arrived in Mazar,” Lutfi said.

When the Taliban took over in August, the tricolour flag became a source of protests as demonstrators across several eastern provinces used it to replace the Taliban’s black-on-white flag.

In the leadup to the 102nd anniversary of independence, the Taliban was accused of killing three protesters who took to the streets in support of the traditional flag in Jalalabad, the capital of Nangarhar province.

Lutfi’s friend eventually had to fight with the cleaner of the guest house who had used the flag as a shade for his bicycle.

He was able to convince the cleaner to give him the flag which he has kept with him the entire time and intends to take to his final destination.

Source: Al Jazeera