Afghanistan was set for a cricket fiesta with Australia, one of the best teams in international cricket. However, the country suddenly pulled out of any future matches with Afghanistan, leaving the hosts with limited options.
Afghanistan will now host Pakistan for three T20Is in the first-ever bilateral meet. The Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB) released a statement saying:
“Afghanistan’s international home season 2023-24 will begin with a three-match T20I home series against Pakistan to be played in Sharjah on March 25, 27, and 29“
Media reports suggest that Team Pakistan will arrive in Sharjah on March 22. The Babar Azam-led team will touch down in Afghanistan with their first team. Team Pakistan will also feature new players with remarkable performances for their respective teams in the Pakistan Super League.
Australia was scheduled to meet with Afghanistan for an ODI series, but that will no longer happen. The canceled game with Australia would have set off Afghanistan’s home season this calendar year. However, Cricket Australia declined to participate citing the treatment of women by Afghanistan’s leadership.
Pakistan’s willingness to play against Afghanistan gives some semblance of hope that the troubled ACB-led team might gain international acceptance soon.
How Did the ACB React to Pakistan’s Agreed T20Is?
The ACB hailed Pakistan’s decision to play in three T20Is against their cricket team. The ACB chief has this to say:
“The Pakistan Cricket Board’s desire to play Afghanistan in March is greatly appreciated. For two neighboring nations, this is a tremendous accomplishment.”
The meet between Pakistan will usher in Afghanistan’s cricket season for the calendar year. It is the first time in international cricket that both teams will face each other in a bilateral meet after competing against each other in four ODIs and three T20Is.
Is This the First Time Australia Will Decline to Play against Afghanistan?
Australia’s rejection of a Test match series is the second time such has happened in 3 years. Cricket Australia refused to play against Afghanistan in November 2021 citing human rights abuses and draconian policies against women.
Australia’s stance aligns with the position of many other established cricket federations worldwide. It is expected that many other teams will tow Australia’s path and pull out of any cricket game with Afghanistan.
Afghanistan’s Cricket Woes
Commentators and fans believe the upcoming trio of T20Is between Afghanistan and Pakistan could rile up emotions among players and fans to fever-pitch level. However, the announced game does little to erase Afghanistan’s current problems in international cricket.
For example, Human Rights Watch (HRW) currently called for the suspension of Afghanistan’s cricket board until human rights abuses reduce. In a statement, the HRW said:
(the ICC) “should suspend Taliban-run Afghanistan from ICC membership, and from participating in international cricket, until women and girls can once again participate in education and sport in the country.”
Cricket Australia also released a statement after their recent withdrawal due to the recent announcement from Taliban authorities banning women from college and partaking in most sports.
Why Do Teams Pull Out from Playing Cricket Matches with Afghanistan?
Cricket teams from other countries usually pull out from playing games with Afghanistan since the country’s takeover by the Taliban. Pull-out statements from these teams largely cite the Taliban’s long history of human rights abuses. Other countries also identify the Taliban’s treatment of minority tribes and women as a valid reason to renege on playing cricket with Afghanistan.
Afghanistan had no senior international cricket team a few months before the US invasion in 2001. The team was formed in late 2000 and received wide acceptance among international cricket bodies during that time. Afghanistan featured in several recognized tournaments with cricketing heavyweights and was a fan favorite for many years.
However, the Taliban takeover in 2021 greatly damaged the image of Afghan cricket internationally. The group’s draconian policies continue to alienate many countries from having any political or social affairs with them.
How Does Afghanistan React to Teams Pulling Out of Scheduled Matches?
Afghan cricket players and fans usually launch social media campaigns whenever a big team pulls out of scheduled games. One such campaign is the #StopPoliticsinCricket hashtag on Twitter.
Popular ex-Afghan cricketers also denounce countries pulling out from cricket games against Afghanistan. One such event was when Rashid Khan, an Afghan cricket hero, denounced Australia’s withdrawal from a scheduled Test match. The ACB also threatens to pull out from scheduled events in other countries as a response to withdrawals from cricket teams. For example, ACB officials have threatened to pull out of Australia’s Big Bash League as a response to Cricket Australia’s withdrawal.