“We were very tense when we first started playing cricket seriously because the situation in Afghanistan wasn’t good.” © Getty
The journey of Shapoor Zadran, a huge frame with a genial approach, is symbolic to the battles endured by cricket in Afghanistan. Poverty, fear of the war-stricken society and now gun attacks, the veteran left-arm pacer’s zeal is the paradigm in Afghan cricket.
“Now I fear no one else other than Allah,” Zadran asserted while talking about the gun attack on him in last January. Reports say it wasn’t the only time he faced an assassination attempt. “I and my family have gone through to overcome poverty. I can’t afford to be scared because of these attacks on me. I am proud to be playing for Afghanistan,” there is intent and overwhelming pride in his voice.
The intent comes from the fight against the stereotypes and the tension in a war-torn country. He takes you back to days when inhibition dominated the enthusiasm for playing cricket. The core of Afghan cricket-incumbent captain Asghar Stanikzai, Mohammad Shahzad, Mohammad Nabi and Dawlat Zadran is responsible for all that Afghan cricket is today.
“Me, Nabi, Asghar and Shahzad used to play eating chips because a packet of chips was available for only Rs 10. Now we get salaries and allowances. Now playing cricket is much easier for youngsters,” the nearly 31-year-old told TOI.
“I was 19 when we started playing. We were very tense when we first started playing cricket seriously because the situation in Afghanistan wasn’t good. We could only play in Kabul because it was the only secure place. It was a very small ground. We feared we will be beaten up because we fought poverty. Now things are a lot better.”
As he narrates the chilling stories, you could make out the satisfaction and glowing pride in his eyes as he swivels to the ‘happy days’ in Afghan cricket now. Zadran doesn’t get tired of praising the new generation of cricketers in the team. He harps on the Rashid Khans and Mujeeb Ur Rahmans with a sense of gratitude that these teenagers are taking Afghanistan cricket to greater heights.
“Afghanistan cricket has passed the stage of struggle because the juniors have come up the ranks. Rashid and Mujeeb have been amazing,” he says, adding: “These boys play IPL at the age of 16-17. Even I am in awe that these boys play such a high level of cricket. They take on the likes of de Villiers and Kohli. I am proud of these boys when they trouble big batsmen. I heard MS Dhoni talking about Mujeeb’s mental strength. That is awe-inspiring.”
Zadran gets nostalgic about the hardships but his excitement for the future generation knows no bounds. His body doesn’t hold up to endure the grind during their impending Test debut next week. “Cricket wasn’t as popular. Now the youngsters play with a lot of enthusiasm because the juniors in the team are playing IPL at 16. Now there is only cricket. Football is behind cricket in popularity now.”
It’s his humility that he owes it entirely to the new generation for making Afghan cricket popular. But deep down he must be aware had he not fought those battles a decade ago, these boys would have struggled to get this field now. As you are about to conclude the chat and turn off the recorder, he jumps in and makes sure “Proud of Afghanistan” doesn’t missed out.