IND vs AFG: Afghanistan fans gearing up for first-ever bilateral T20I series against India

Close to 100 Afghan students from various universities in Chandigarh, Mohali, and Panchkula visited the Afghanistan team hotel to meet the cricketers ahead of the first T20I in Mohali on Thursday. 

Published : Jan 11, 2024 18:30 IST , MOHALI - 4 MINS READ

Naveed Momamd (l) with Afghanistan cricketer Azmatullah Omarzai.
Naveed Momamd (l) with Afghanistan cricketer Azmatullah Omarzai. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Naveed Momamd (l) with Afghanistan cricketer Azmatullah Omarzai. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Naveed Momand has been living in Chandigarh for nearly five years now. An MSc student at the Panjab University, Momand hails from Nangarhar, a province in the eastern region of Afghanistan.

Growing up in the war-torn country, Momand has been friends with Afghanistan cricket team’s all-rounder Azmatullah Omarzai since childhood and having played a bit of cricket himself, he knows quite a few players from the current national team.

And over the last few days, Momand and a few of his friends - who are also students at various universities in Chandigarh, Mohali and Panchkula - have made it a point to visit the Afghanistan team hotel and catch up with the cricketers, who are in the city for the first T20I against India.

Despite making its Test debut against India back in 2018, this will be the first-ever bilateral T20I series between the two teams and quite naturally, the 100-odd Afghan students who live in the tri-city, are excited.

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“Omarzai and I have been childhood friends. We went to the same school and played a lot together, and it’s wonderful to see your friend playing cricket at the highest level,” Momand tells  Sportstar with a smile.

Hours before the first T20I got underway at the IS Bindra-Punjab Cricket Association Stadium on Thursday evening, the Afghan students braved the biting cold and thronged the venue, donning traditional attire. They waved the flag, chanted slogans in Pashtun and made it a point to cheer for the touring team.

“Our players have the energy and passion and over the years, they have made us proud. It’s an incredible feeling to cheer for Afghanistan, sitting faraway in Chandigarh,” Momand says. During the ODI World Cup last year, Momand and a few of his friends travelled to Dharamshala to watch Afghanistan’s game against Bangladesh.

“It was an outstanding performance by our team as we went on to win against Pakistan and England. As fans, it was an unique experience and we hope for a similar result in this series as well,” says Abdulnasser, a student at Punjabi University in Patiala and a friend of Momand.

Hailing from Kandahar province, Abdulnasser watched quite a few matches in the World Cup and even travelled to Lucknow to cheer for the team. “In this series, we will miss Rashid Khan, but these three games are very important for us in terms of setting our goals for this year’s T20 World Cup. We have quite a few talents, who have the potential and firepower to do well,” he says.

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On the eve of the series opener, Afghanistan captain Ibrahim Zadran said that for a war-torn country, cricket is the only hope. “Cricket is the only hope in our country, which gives happiness to our people. Every time we enter the field, we try to play for the happiness of our people,” Zadran had said.

And by turning up in large numbers, the Afghan fans have proved the captain right. Faraway from home, they live in hope and dream of the team achieving more success on the pitch. “Back home, there are lots of problems, but it’s cricket that brings us together, the Blue Tigers not only make us happy, but they also give us hope,” says Abdul Azeem Safai.

He has been in Punjab for more than five years now, and it’s not easy to stay away from home. “But we somehow manage. Initially, it was challenging, but now, this is my second home,” Safai says. “We want a good series between our two home countries - India and Afghanistan, and we will cheer for our brothers to make sure they have all the support…”

Back in 2015, Greater Noida was the home ground for the Afghanistan team, before it shifted base to Dehradun and Lucknow. Now with the home base shifted to the UAE, the Afghans settled in India don’t often get a chance to see the Afghan Atalans in action. But now that here’s an opportunity, the fans want to make it memorable!

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