As one walked around the Narendra Modi Stadium on Friday afternoon, Afghanistan flags were hard to miss. In one of the lower-tier stands, a bunch of Afghan nationals - all university students in different parts of India - chanted slogans in Pashto and waved a giant banner that read, “Rashid Khan - Naam hi kaafi hai…”
They clicked selfies with the local Indian fans and made it a point to cheer for the Afghan batters as they walked out to bat against South Africa. With hopes of qualifying for the World Cup knockouts over, there was not much for the Afghans to look forward to, but the 50-odd dedicated fans were there to back the Afghan Atalan.
“All of us are students at different Indian universities, and since our team is playing in the tournament, we have travelled to several venues to show our love and support to the players,” Anayatullah Hashimi, a student of Structural Engineering at Gujarat Technological University, told Sportstar.
Hailing from the Khost province in Afghanistan, Hashimi has been friends with Ibrahim Zadran, Mujeeb-ur Rahman and Noor Ahmad - who are also from the same region. Ahead of its final league game, the players gifted a few tickets to Hashimi and his friends so that they could watch the game. “We have travelled to Mumbai, Chennai, Delhi and other venues to watch the game, and it has been a great experience. Even local Afghan nationals in those respective cities also joined us to cheer for the team,” said Wahid Zadran, another spectator.
Afghanistan has been the surprise package of the tournament so far, managing to achieve four wins, including three previous World Cup champion sides in England, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
Afghanistan had its destiny in its own hands, needing two wins from two to make it to the knockout stages, and it almost pulled off an upset over Australia, restricting them to 91/7 within 19 overs, before Glenn Maxwell’s unbeaten double hundred snatched victory from its hands.
“It was a heartbreak for sure, but in this tournament, our team has done well, and we are proud of them,” said Hashimi. With visa issues, not many could travel from Afghanistan to watch the tournament in India, but several students who were in Europe or Dubai managed to catch a few games. “Some of our friends flew down to watch a game, and it was fun cheering for our team,” Hashimi said. As he spoke, wickets tumbled, and South African bowlers slowly took charge of the game. However, with a broad smile, Hashimi said in jest: “The team will bounce back. But in the tournament, our aim was to beat Pakistan, and we have done that. Nothing can match that…”
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