The Cricket Coach
“I’ll never forget when they played the Afghan national anthem… we we were all crying.”
My name is Raes Ahmadzai.
I am the head of the Afghan Youth Cricket Support Organisation (AYCSO). I was the last captain of the Afghan National Cricket team.
When I was very young my family emigrated to Pakistan. We lived in a poor community with no TV, radio or electricity. We knew nothing about cricket, but in Pakistan it is very popular and I started to learn all about it. We had no money for equipment so we would use bits of wood, and pile our sandals up to make wickets. I remember in 1992 when Pakistan won the World Cup everyone was celebrating. Everyone was so happy and they were firing bullets in the streets.
I returned to Kabul in 2001, people didn’t really play cricket. They all thought it was a Pakistani sport. I played in Kabul with 15 other boys who knew the game. Actually cricket is an English sport, they started playing three or four hundred years ago. I found out on the internet that there was an English cricket match in Kabul in 1810.
Fortunately now all Afghans like cricket and know that it’s not a Pakistani game. And I can tell you something about Afghans – if they improve in something the whole of Afghanistan will follow. And we have improved very much. Our team is now ranked 13th in the world.
When we defeated the Pakistan team everyone congratulated us including the President. As an Afghan I am very proud to have beaten the country where I learned the sport. It is like a student against his teacher. The day we defeated the US team was a historical day for Afghanistan. That day there was no news of bombings or war. All of Afghanistan was praying for us. Even the insurgents were praying for us.
There have been matches where we have been so happy that tears came out of our eyes, but the most memorable one was when we got to play in the World Cup. I cannot forget when we played the Afghan national anthem. We were waving our flag and we were crying. Even now I am getting emotional thinking about it. I grew up in the poorest community in Pakistan and I have taken the Afghan Cricket Team to the World Cup. We won the match and also proved to the world that we are peaceful and talented people.
I am proud of myself, my family is proud of me and the whole of Afghanistan is now proud of the Afghan cricket team. Afghans know all the members of the cricket team. People who see us at parties or on the streets respect us. And they look at us like champions. I am very proud that our people know, respect and pray for us.
We have people from all different tribes and provinces in the team. We have cricket agencies in 30 provinces of the country and we have provincial matches. I personally never play for my tribe; I play for the three colours of the Afghan flag. I have gone and visited many countries of the world but I never feel good unless I am in Afghanistan. When I am here I know my country and I feel it. I feel its happiness and its problems.
Now I have resigned from the national team because I want to work to get more young people playing cricket so they stay away from drugs and fighting and hopefully they will be the best players we’ve ever had. I am working on solving the problems we have, like not having cricket grounds or money for equipment. I want to tell the President it is time to do something for our youth.
I have been nominated as the face of peace by UNICEF. I am very happy and I will work for Afghan youth until I die. My message to Afghans is that they are a very talented people. They have hidden talents. We should all unite; the construction and destruction of Afghanistan is in our hands, so let’s get together and make our country.