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Shoaib Akhtar's Controversial Remarks on Afghan Refugees Underline Why Politics Must Stay Away from Cricket

(Photo Credit: Reuters)

(Photo Credit: Reuters)

Shoaib Akhtar's comments ahead of the Afghanistan and Pakistan match at the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup was not only insensitive but unnecessary.

Politicisation of cricket is nothing new in World Cup tournaments, yet on Saturday a pall of gloom descended in its spirit when former Pakistani fast-bowler broke into piddling, leaving the essence of the gentleman's game in shambles.

Afghanistan lost to Pakistan in the ICC Cricket World Cup at the Headingley in Leeds on Saturday. As the teams battled it out on the pitch, fans in the stands came to blows after a plane carrying messages in support of Balochistan flew over the stadium.

One could tell things would boil over, given the ground on which the Afghanistan-Pakistan clash was being hyped up on.

While Afghanistan skipper Gulbaddin Naib acknowledged the help from Pakistan, their Cricket Board's interim CEO Asadullah Khan jabbed at the Men in Green.

Ahead of the clash, Naib said, "If you look at our cricket, we learned a lot of cricket in Pakistan and we also played cricket in Pakistan".

On the contrary, in a subtle dig at Pakistan's drubbing in the initial matches, Khan said with the state of affairs of Sarfaraz's team, they should be the ones to ask Afghanistan "for technical, coaching & more support for betterment of their cricket".

Then came the bombshell from the Rawalpindi Express.

Former Pakistan pacer Shoaib Akhtar lashed out at the ABC CEO's statements on his YouTube channel, making quite controversial and personal statements.

"You will have to bear with me but I will say something controversial. If you ask the Afghan players to show their original ID cards, they all will be from Peshawar and for this reason their entire team can get a ban as well from the ICC," Akhtar said in a preview for the match.

"We love the people of Afghanistan, we love peace and wanted to help you out. We gave refuge to three million Afghanis during the time, we still love you and we are still owning you. But tomorrow there will be no love when Pakistan will take on you guys."

The trivialisation of an issue as complex and sensitive as that of the displacement of the Afghan people and their enormous sacrifice for defending the game of cricket, calls for retrospection.

The history of cricket in Afghanistan is intrinsically intertwined with Pakistan with the war-torn country picking up the game in refugee camps during the 1979 Soviet invasion. Pakistan had even invited Afghanistan to play in their domestic leagues in the early 2000.

The game was met with vehement and bloody opposition from the Taliban regime in the formative years. However, the regime had a change of heart in the early 2000s as they approached the Pakistan Cricket Board to help.

Notwithstanding the alleged involvement of Pakistan in the growth of Taliban in Afghanistan, the ensuing conflict in the region forced large number of Afghan refugees to cross the border.

In the refugee camps in Pakistan, cricket became an escape.

Over the next two three years as Afghanistan started Cricket tours in Pakistan, including the time when the US army invaded.

As Afghanistan's runs in international tournaments started to go deep, India stepped in. First Noida stadium in Delhi NCR and then the Rajiv Gandhi International Cricket Stadium in Dehradun became the home grounds for the Afghanistan cricket team. India also invested resources in the team, as they started their climb up the cricketing ladder, all the while Pakistan descended amidst growing terrorism in the failing state.

The comments from Shoaib Akhtar is not an anomaly, it is a mindset. A mindset of the petty. The comments from the former Pakistan cricketer highlights the need for better sense and not the need for a sense of better.

On Saturday in Leeds, Pakistan won in cricket but the spirit of cricket was left defeated.