July 7th, 2010
01:20 PM ET

Tracing the rise of Afghan cricket

In a van honking and maneuvering through gridlocked Kabul traffic, an Afghan man gets philosophical about the problems of modern life.

“All over the world, there is fighting, fighting,” he says. The solution to all these problems, he says, is cricket.

Meet Taj Malik, the Afghan cricket team coach and, possibly, the sport’s biggest advocate in the the war-torn country.

He’s the main protagonist in “Out of the Ashes,” a funny, touching film that follows the Afghan cricket team in its quest to qualify for the Twenty20 cricket World Cup, held this year. Twenty20 cricket is a fast-paced short form of traditional cricket known for big bucks and glamour.

The British brought cricket to Afghanistan in the early 19th century, but it didn’t catch on for almost 200 years. Afghans only really started playing about 1986, says “Out of the Ashes” director Tim Albone.

Refugees from Afghanistan’s war with what was then the Soviet Union learned the sport in camps in Pakistan and brought it with them when they returned.

Malik and his brothers, Hasti and Karim, were among those who fled the country after the Soviet invasion in 1979.

They grew up playing cricket on rubble-strewn pitches in a camp in Peshawar, on the Pakistani border, balancing rocks  on top of the other to make stumps.

When Malik and his brothers returned home after the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, they continued to play, forming part of the first generation of Afghan cricketers.

A sport many associate with the quaint village greens of rural England, it was incongruous in Afghanistan – and not just for those outside the country.

“People in our village called us gangsters,” Hasti Malik says in the film, adding that he found it hard to find a wife because he played the sport.

It was one of the few sports the Taliban allowed.

“They liked it because they could figure in prayer breaks. … You know, cricket’s pretty civilized,” Albone said. “And the crowd don’t get too excited, and they don’t cheer, so as far as sports go, it’s pretty Taliban-friendly.”

The team started batting for the world stage after the Taliban were ousted from power. But they still had many obstacles to overcome.

Some members of the team were too poor to afford equipment, and training facilities remain ramshackle to this day.

“I went to see their training pitch … and it’s diabolical. A village team in England would have better,” Albone said.

And yet, the team, fueled by passion for the game and determination to succeed, rose rapidly through the World Cricket League.

Starting in the lowest division, Division Five, in May 2008, they confounded expectations, winning match after match.

They narrowly failed to qualify for the Twenty20 World Cup in the West Indies but were allowed to play one game in the tournament.

They ended up playing international cricketing behemoth India. They lost but put up a good fight against world-class players like Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Zaheer Khan.

It was a run that captured the imagination of the world, and the players were welcomed home as heroes. Afghans have become great supporters of the team, a beacon in a country with few idols.

“They’ve become massive stars. They are now advertising mobile phones,” Albone said. “Everywhere you go, you see kids playing cricket, and that wasn’t the case even four years ago.”

The members take their position seriously and see themselves as sporting diplomats whose mission is to show Afghanistan in a positive light. And that, perhaps, is the secret behind their astonishing rise from the refugee camps to take on the best in the world.

“These guys have played cricket all their lives, but I think there’s also just something about [them] that’s incredibly special,” Albone said. “It’s got nothing to do with sport. It’s to do with their characters.”

- By CNN's Mairi Mackay

Filed under: Life and Culture
soundoff (41 Responses)
  1. Psyclops222

    I am a huge cricket enthusiast and play cricket at the club level and had the opportunity to watch these guys play. Trust me they are their own men. They have no backing from their government, few sponsors and virtually no training facilities. They are playing at the international level because of their passion and self-belief and the hunger to do something with their lives. Inspiring!
    Compare it to the over paid, ego maniacs going around in professional sports these days.. (TO, LeBron ... )

    July 27, 2010 at 1:20 pm | Report abuse |
  2. atal

    Well Nato is not here to conquer....and if they really intend to do, they should learn from history. Regarding your comments about the russians winning the war...i wish you were here then....they came to this countryt to kill....men, woman, children, animals......anyone.

    July 11, 2010 at 1:19 am | Report abuse |
    • Larry Valecia, Calif.

      The big difference Russia was trying to take over the Country!!! We are training them to take care of it on their own...

      July 12, 2010 at 6:59 pm | Report abuse |
      • Daniel-2

        To set the record straight,the Russians were trying to preserve an indigenous Communist government while NATO seeks to crush Islam and build an invisible empire over there.Enough said.

        July 12, 2010 at 10:23 pm | Report abuse |
      • Seeyar Ahmadzai

        Russia was actually invited by Afghan government, Russia did a lot good to Afghanistan, the things Russia had build through the past, will take us and your U.S a least 30 years to build again.

        Don't forget you people along side with Pakistan, China, Saudi Arabia and other fundamentalists Arabs created the so called Holy Warriors/the Taliban.

        You setting on your flat in the western comfort, while we had/have to burier our dear ones, so who's the real victim, you or me?

        The British more than 100 years ago divided our country in two pieces by their Durand-Line, just as Berlin was divided, which is a big problem for us now. Yet some of the Western people asking why so much trouble in that Muslim country, it must be because of Islam. Hell no, the problems has nothing to do with Islam, it's all politics, we are fighting the problems created by some Western democracies, Arab fundamentalist, and some greedy neighbour around us.

        August 6, 2010 at 6:21 am | Report abuse |
  3. atal


    You are indeed ignorant and oblivious of everything happening in Afghanistan....so plz shut your mouth up..

    July 10, 2010 at 6:33 am | Report abuse |
    • Daniel-2

      Good grief,atal,do you really like this obnoxious war and the poverty of the Afghan people?What's happening in Afghanistan today frankly makes me sick with NATO trying to conquer that country in order to exploit it's resources.

      July 10, 2010 at 9:00 am | Report abuse |
      • Smith in Oregon

        Yes, I agree. Although China had approached Saddam regarding securing lucrative Oil leases on it's many huge untapped Oil fields, Saddam totally refused all overtures by China and totally refused to sell any of Iraq's resources to China because of China's connection with his enemy's in Iran. After the US Military virtually handed Saddam's head on a silver plater to Iran, the biggest gift America could ever give Iran, China was able to purchase a great many Iraqi Oil field leases for mere penny's on the dollar. That wasn't some mere coincidence but the result of a very long relationship between Bush sr. and China. The Bush Family values include being a virtual Manchurian Candidate.

        And how did China end up with the largest penny bank in the entire world? In the 1970's, China was a improvised poor country entirely unable to shrug off immense poverty and the economic needs of it's own people. Then came Reagan-Bush sr., who didn't immediately stop the sudden enormous spike in the price of Silver. Under a executive order, Reagan-Bush sr. could have invoked a strategic emergency and stopped the stock market bubble on Silver immediately. But NO, they waited as the price of Silver skyrocketed. And who was sitting on Millions of tons of Silver ingots? CHINA, who virtually overnight became Trillonares in 1979-1980 and haven't looked back since. Of course Bush sr. knew China was sitting on all of that Silver. As a famous movie Emperor once told his nefarious partner, 'Excellent, it is all proceeding exactly as planned'.

        July 10, 2010 at 4:39 pm | Report abuse |
      • Larry Valecia, Calif.

        and Smith in Orgen: Do you really think the United States are fighting the 2 wars to make things better for India and China???

        July 12, 2010 at 6:58 pm | Report abuse |
  4. From Naser to Smith Oregon

    about your question about India-pakistan proxy war I would tell you that some a large number of Afghan population is illetrated and uneducated because of war since 3 decades. That's why a small number of people knows about this proxy war, not all the people. Lack of education is the mother of all problems in Afghanistan.

    July 10, 2010 at 12:30 am | Report abuse |
    • Daniel-2

      Had the Communists won in Afghanistan 30 years ago and without Russian intervention,the Afghan people would be quite well educated and there'd be no war there today.But the real tragedy is that they didn't do it and now NATO is endeavoring to take over the whole region.

      July 10, 2010 at 1:48 am | Report abuse |
      • Jerry

        You sure nailed it good,Daniel !!!

        July 10, 2010 at 2:50 pm | Report abuse |
      • Larry Valecia, Calif.

        They already tried it that way... That is why they are doing it the American way instead!!!

        July 12, 2010 at 6:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Smith in Oregon

      Naser, do the Afghanistan people realize they would receive enormous royalty's from the trans-Afghanistan pipeline across all of Afghanistan paid to every man, woman and child if the Karzai Clan didn't interfere or swallow it all up?

      Naser, do the Afghanistan people even know about the trans-Afghanistan pipeline proposed to carry enormous amounts of Natural Gas to New Delhi, India? Your people are being shot at and bombed, and you have the right to know why.

      July 10, 2010 at 3:55 am | Report abuse |
  5. David

    Isn't there other news items on CNN that dwell solely on the war why not go to those and have that discussion. This news item is about cricket in Afghanistan. So I say good on you guys for taking up the sport. Someone should introduce the game to China and then it'll be the most played summer sport in the world.

    July 10, 2010 at 12:22 am | Report abuse |
  6. Mason Mehring

    Cricket shmicket. To rise to the top you need to brown nose like me. I'm the brown noser poster child. I can kiss ass better than anyone in the universe. Email me to learn my secrets. mason.mehring@corelinksolutions.com

    July 8, 2010 at 9:31 am | Report abuse |
  7. Afghan Empire

    We do proud of our team, there greater success waiting for Afghan nation. Our values start with defeating others on the gournd. We do know that they deserve to be at the top of Global list, not just in Alphabets but in any sense.

    July 8, 2010 at 6:11 am | Report abuse |
  8. TERRY S


    July 8, 2010 at 5:37 am | Report abuse |
  9. cecile ramirez from philippines...

    i admire the team cricket,their ability to play good..and boost the morale of the people of afghanistan..but then,much more i desire and wished that the war in afghanistan may soon ends..and let the people there may lived a normal life especially the children...

    July 8, 2010 at 5:34 am | Report abuse |
    • Tom Posey

      I too want this filthy war to end,but the right-wing fantics in Washington don't since there are too many right-wing politicians using it to promote their political agenda and war profiteers lining their pockets.Tragically,with these people in control of things,there seems to be no end in sight.

      July 8, 2010 at 9:19 am | Report abuse |
      • Larry Valecia, Calif.

        Iraq will finish this year and hopefully Afghanistan will finish by the end of next year!!!

        July 12, 2010 at 6:52 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Smith in Oregon

    Nice cricket suits, I assume the American taxpayer money provided them with those for free. Meanwhile hundreds of thousands of homeless veterans with children are being denied help, services, food and shelter by the Republican Potty'ticians. Senator John McCain obstructed US Senate hearings for helping homeless veterans with children thru economic aid and job stimulus.

    July 7, 2010 at 6:31 pm | Report abuse |

      Just think,this John McCain wanted to be our President,too!!!How disgusting!

      July 7, 2010 at 7:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bashir Ahmadi

      @Smith in Oregon, you are stupid. Our government backed by the United States doesn't even pay one penny for our cricket players, because the Afghan government officials are all corrupted warlords.
      Its all from our generous business men who support and pay to our cricket team.
      Afghanistan! Keep rocking for ever:) We won another match against Holland yesterday:)

      July 7, 2010 at 7:48 pm | Report abuse |
      • Daniel-2

        How much were you paid to say that?Anything to make NATO look good.

        July 7, 2010 at 7:54 pm | Report abuse |
      • John Doe

        way to go bashir. nice to hear that you're supporting Afghanistan, the good in that country get way to much mud in the face because of the evil acts of people from there. I had a friend who was a soldier there, and he said that there were many who were gratful for their help. even if the U.S. did pay for them, I don't believe it'd be a lost cause. sports raise a country's moral and give people direction and something to look forward to.

        July 7, 2010 at 8:14 pm | Report abuse |
      • Bashir Ahmadi

        @Daniel-2: I am paid enough money to study full time in the United States for 5 years and live joyfully. Again thanks for the Ahmad Zabuli Foundation who spends money for his people to study in US and go back home and build Afghanistan.

        July 8, 2010 at 12:18 pm | Report abuse |
      • Smith in Oregon

        After the US Military and American taxpayers funding pulls out of Afghanistan, you can go back to being the armpit of the world. I hope the fungus attacking your Opium fields consumes all of them across your entire country. Your ignorance stood by and let the Taliban fanatics destroy the 3,000 year old Buddhist statues which was one of the few features in your country that now deserves the ton's of depleted Uranium the US Military has spread across your lands.

        You stood by and let the Taliban execute women for the most ignorant of fantasied reasons, where was your country's backbone and courage then? Shooting kneeling women in the UN built soccer field with a machine gun is the act of a coward. Poisoning young girls that go to Afghanistan's schools are further acts of cowards. Flooding the world with Heroin, is that what you are proud of? Is that all your country has to offer?

        July 10, 2010 at 3:49 am | Report abuse |
    • naser from afghanistan

      You're right! American taxpayers money have provided luxury houses and shiny vehicles for our corrupt government officials too.
      It is painful for me and for you, isn't it?

      July 8, 2010 at 1:01 am | Report abuse |
      • Smith in Oregon

        Hi naser, yes it is heartbreaking. The tightly panned views of Washington DC to show the White House, Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln Monuments purposefully avoid showing the widespread squalid ghettos and crowds of homeless American's in the vicinity. Rural towns across America have polished granite government and state buildings, courthouses and political 'mansions' while the very residents in those same dusty towns have very little themselves.

        The utter corruption in the Big Oil laden Republican party also freely flows thru much of America's State and Federal court system resulting in the largest prison system in the entire world filled with a great many political victims and political enemy's.

        It is no surprise that the fighters supporting India in Afghanistan want the trans-Afghanistan natural gas pipeline to be built and provide natural gas to New Delhi, India. And it is not surprising that the fighters supporting Pakistan in Afghanistan do not want the trans-Afghanistan natural gas pipeline to be built.

        Naser, are the everyday Afghanistan people aware of this proxy war between India and Pakistan over the trans-Afghanistan pipeline?

        July 8, 2010 at 7:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Umer

      I feel for Poor Smith, his MacDonald money has been spent on our cricket team!! Poor You...

      July 9, 2010 at 5:26 pm | Report abuse |
      • The wise person has long ears and a short tongue

        @Umer – where are you from Umer? That doesn't sound like an Afghan name.

        July 15, 2010 at 3:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Larry Valecia, Calif.

      Don't you know the Republicans rather spend our money on other Countries before they take car of Their own poor!!!

      July 12, 2010 at 6:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jay

      The funding for the uniform and the fields and the equipment came from ACC (Asian Cricket Council). Sorry if you are disappointed

      July 14, 2010 at 9:22 am | Report abuse |
  11. omar

    I am proud for these players. In the short period of time, Afghan cricket palyers started from zero and now going forward and palys with top countries around the world. These players started with no suport from the government and paid all expens from their pocket. One of them mentioned in TV that while they were in London for a game, the players had no money to buy enough food, but still they win the game.

    July 7, 2010 at 4:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • John Doe

      wow, I commend them for their passion, I wouldn't even play bascketball with sunday school children without a good meal digesting in my stomach!

      July 7, 2010 at 8:06 pm | Report abuse |
      • Tom Posey

        John Doe,are really naive enough to believe all that right-wing mumbo-jumbo you just blogged in here?Start to think for yourself if you can.

        July 8, 2010 at 12:07 am | Report abuse |
    • Larry Valecia, Calif.

      Why can't they get along with others like they do in sports??? Instead of killing each other!!!

      July 12, 2010 at 6:48 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Gary Johndro


    July 7, 2010 at 1:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Larry Valecia, Calif.

      Turkey again warns Israel over flotilla attacks
      Middle East Online Thu, 08 Jul 2010 08:54 AM PDT
      Turkish FM says Israel should accept accountability for deadly flotilla attack if it wants to improve ties with Turkey.

      July 8, 2010 at 2:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Larry Valecia, Calif.

      News Briefs
      Israel National News Thu, 08 Jul 2010 08:53 AM PDT
      The Ramallah-based Al-Quds , Al-Ayyam and the Al-Hayat al-Jadida were all stopped by Hamas from distributing their newspapers in Gaza this week. The newspapers were originally prevented from entering Gaza three years ago when Israel closed the crossings after Hamas seized control of the region.

      July 8, 2010 at 2:45 pm | Report abuse |