Taliban approve Afghanistan's first cricket Test since takeover

Youths play cricket at a square in Kabul in June 2021. PHOTO: AFP

KABUL (AFP) - The Taliban have approved Afghanistan's first cricket Test since their takeover, raising hopes that international matches will continue as usual under the new rule of the Islamists.

"We have got approval to send the team to Australia," the chief executive of the Afghanistan Cricket Board, Hamid Shinwari, told AFP.

During their first stint in power, before they were ousted in 2001, the Taliban banned most forms of entertainment - including many sports - and stadiums were used as public execution venues.

The hardline Islamists do not mind cricket, however, and the game is popular among many fighters.

They have also promised to enforce a less strict version of Islamic law this time, after seizing the capital Kabul last month.

The Test match, to be played in Hobart from Nov 27-Dec 1, was scheduled for last year but was put off due to the Covid-19 pandemic and international travel restrictions.

It will be Afghanistan's first Test in Australia.

Before the Australia tour, the Afghanistan team will feature in the T20 World Cup, to be held in the United Arab Emirates from Oct 17-Nov 15.

Shinwari also confirmed Afghanistan's Under-19 cricket team will tour Bangladesh for a bi-lateral series later this month.

Since the evacuation of the US and Nato forces from Afghanistan after the Taliban swept into Kabul last month there have been fears that cricket and other sports would be hit.

But ACB officials categorically said that cricket was supported by the Taliban.

Afghanistan's home ODI series against Pakistan - shifted to Sri Lanka - was last week postponed until next year over logistical and Covid-19 issues.

Cricket was barely known in Afghanistan until the early 2000s, and its rapid rise in popularity was linked with conflict - the sport was picked up in Pakistan by Afghan refugees who then seeded it in their home country.

But the national team has enjoyed a meteoric rise on the international scene since then, gaining coveted Test status in 2017 and now ranked among the top 10 sides in the world in the one-day international and T20 formats.

In the last 20 years, it has also emerged as a powerful symbol of national unity in a country riven by civil war and ethnic conflict.

Afghanistan's star player Rashid Khan was last year named the Men's T20I Player of the Decade by the International Cricket Council.

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