When Raees Ahmadzai first became aware of cricket he was eight years old and living in a refugee camp in Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province. It was 1992 and Pakistan were about to win the Cricket World Cup.
Like millions of other Afghans, Raees and his family had sought refuge in neighboring Pakistan after the Soviet invasion of 1979. There, cricket was already an established passion.
“I was in school at the refugee camp when Pakistan won the 1992 World Cup … Everyone was happy, the teacher was happy, people were celebrating. We’d say, what’s this World Cup” Raees recalled.
Little did Raees know that the game he was watching, but barely understood, would go on to change his life.
“‘Slowly slowly we started playing cricket … For maybe five or six years we played cricket without shoes, or without anything. Even in 45 or 50 degrees heat. That was tough.”
Raees quickly excelled. He started playing league matches in Pakistan and became a central figure in the emerging Afghan cricket team.
Games such as cricket and football were banned and condemned by the Taliban in the early years of their austere rule, which began in 1996, but they lifted the cricket ban in 2000.
In 2001, a US-led invasion toppled the Taliban. In the same year, Afghanistan’s national cricket team was formed and their cricket board formally recognized as an affiliate member of the International Cricket Council.
At the time, they had no world ranking and no home pitch. But they had a generation of talented players.
“We have no facilities, we have no ground, no salaries, no nothing, but we have unity. There are no barriers between us, we are together as one. We are just playing for our country and we play from our heart to represent our people and our nation,” Raees told Al Jazeera’s Andy Richardson 10 years ago as he was getting ready to play in the T20 World Cup qualifier.
“We are doing something special for our country, something for peace. We want to change the minds of people and convince them that war is bad. I want the whole country to have the same unity our team does.”
Since then, Afghanistan’s cricket team has found a new home among the sports world’s elite.
In 2019, Rewind talked to Raees and Andy Richardson about Afghan cricket today and what has changed since Al Jazeera filmed the team ahead of the 2010 T20 World Cup. Read More