Afghan fans keep passion for cricket amid security concerns

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) Cricket fans in Afghanistan have a record number of foreign players to watch in the ongoing Shpageeza Cricket League despite security concerns.

Around 20 overseas cricketers are participating in the SCL – Afghanistan’s domestic Twenty20 tournament which ends Sept. 22 at Kabul’s International Cricket Stadium. Alongside homegrown talent, the six teams also feature players from South Africa, Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka, West Indies and Oman.

Shafiqullah Stanekzai, chief executive officer for the Afghanistan Cricket Board, called the annual competition ”something immense” and a stepping-stone in the sport’s progress in his country.

”This year we have some tremendous achievements,” Stanekzai said, including Afghanistan’s full membership of the International Cricket Council.

The country ranks 10th in one-day international matches and 9th in the shorter T20 version.

Afghans appear to have accepted the security risks, filling the stadium for SCL games while carrying banners and the national flag.

Cricket fan Mohammad Hussain said: ”We welcome the foreign players and want them to come here again and again.”

But the security challenges remain. A suicide bomber killed three people Wednesday – the third day of the tournament – outside the cricket stadium.

Rayad Emrit, a West Indies allrounder for SCL team Bost Defenders, said the cricket would continue, adding that ”the crowd support again has been excellent, the security for us has been tremendous and we hope that it can only get better.”

Any international participation will only boost Afghanistan’s cricket.

”Playing in these leagues is very good for our cricketers,” said Afghan allrounder Gulbadin Naib.