I have been looking for an antidote to the diet of disheartening news, real and fake, which is headlined by Trump, Brexit and international terrorism. I think I found it this week at Lord’s Cricket Ground in London; headquarters of the sport. The Afghanistan Cricket Team were participating in a little piece of cricket tradition by playing an invitation side representing the Marylebone Cricket Club, MCC. I had been at a packed Lord’s two days earlier to watch the England side beat South Africa on the exciting fourth day of a five day Test match. My fellow English were of course vocal in their support but rather genteel when compared with the flamboyantly dressed Afghan fans 48 hours later. Despite the untimely rain, in scarce supply this summer, several thousand Afghanis feted their cricketing heroes and enthusisatically expressed their national pride by chanting “AFG” in the style of Americans at the Ryder Cup. National flags were confiscated at the entrance to the ground but enough were smuggled in to provide the necessary rallying points.
Afghanis have had precious little to shout about in the last few decades but the emergence of cricket as a national sport in only the last 20 years is a small but important miracle which they have embraced wholeheartedly. The national side has just been awarded Test status (alongside Ireland); something only 11 other countries can boast. Cricket is capable of drawing some of the largest TV audiences of any sport thanks partly to its obsessive preeminence on the Indian subcontinent. A typical series of 3 to 5 test matches each lasting up to 5 days has the potential to provide an absorbing diversion for a country that otherwise is cleaning up the terrible aftermath of the latest car bomb.
Change is good. Sport is a powerful agent of change.