INDIA: You don’t visit Afghanistan and come back without experiencing fear. Dean Jones is no different. He was there for 12 days and when he returned to India yesterday to resume his commentary stint, he had this to say about the warravaged nation first up. “I am glad I went there.”
He was in Kabul to do commentary for a Twenty20 tournament, the venue of which was attacked by suicide bombers mid-way through a game resulting in the death of five security personnel.
Players from South Africa and Zimbabwe were immediately recalled by their boards but Jones and a few others, including Alistair Campbell of Zimbabwe, Adam Hollioake of England and Andy Moles of New Zealand, decided to stay on. Jones says he is happy with that decision. “We were not told the right things at the start, they said it was a cylinder blast. The players came off the ground and they too were told the same. It turned out to be a great match involving a chase of 200 runs. Later we were informed that it was an ISIS attack.
We could instantly go home. But we stuck together and decided to stay put. Look, we did not go there without knowing about the strife. It is a country that is not exactly in war but not in peace either. We knew something would pop up.”
Jones & Co had some conditions and one of them was presidential security arrangements, but his point of view was different. “Some people died trying to protect the freedom of playing the game of cricket, the game that we love. And they put their lives on the line to protect us. If we went back straight away after the attack, their sacrifices would have meant nothing,” Jones says, promising to go there again. “I am not paid to say this but the cricket was great and I would go there again.” After the attack on September 13, the security got tightened expectedly, with the President of the country himself getting involved. As Jones recalls, the roads were cleared during travel from the hotel to the ground. A convoy of 15 vehicles would escort their vehicles. “We were taken through different routes on bullet and bombproof SUVs so that they don’t get the timing on us. There was no problem once we were inside the ground or the hotel. The travel was tricky and that was taken care of. It was a presidential treatment and it was an eye-opener,” Jones says. The eye-opener for the Australian was the passion for the game in Afghanistan.
“In 2000, 17 years ago, nobody played cricket or heard about it much. Now it is the No 1 sport there. The ground next to the Kabul International Cricket Stadium, the venue of the tournament, can accommodate two MCGs and I saw only cricket being played there. Earlier they used to play soccer, I was told; now only cricket. It has become national passion.” Jones says the place was safe once you were indoors. “The hotel was like in Dubai. Even we had to go through sniffer dogs. Rooms were brilliant and hospitality is fantastic. If the same presidential treatment is given to other teams, then they should go, including India,” he says. “Teams (in the past) were pretty quick to leave places like Sri Lanka or Bangladesh. There were attacks in England, but teams decided to stay, there were attacks in India (26/11) and England came back to play. There was a blast outside the Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore and the IPL went ahead that night. How does it work? Are we hypocrites? We stay only in places which we like.
There should be consistency,” Jones says. He is also impressed by cricket during the 12-day event and feels Afghanistan will be a serious challenger in T20 cricket in the near future. “The pitches were fantastic. There was a five-for from young left-arm spinner Zakir Khan (he reckons he will be the new spin sensation), a 17-run over from Dawlat Zadran who hit a six off the last ball to win the game and Rashid Khan (who plays for Sunrisers Hyderabad in the IPL) got to lead a side. It was good for his development as a cricketer and as a person.
Over 5,000 people went back home, not able to come into the ground for lack of tickets for the final. It was a full house every day.” Jones thinks the future can be bright for Afghan cricket. “India is helping them by providing a ground in Noida. They are preparing for the World Cup qualifiers in March. And then they will play their first Test in January- February next year which will be a big moment for them. Next year, they are planning to start the Afghanistan Premier League in Dubai.
Things look bright for them,” he says. The recent tournament was called Shpageeza Cricket League with Shpageeza standing for a six in the local language. “We used to say it’s a Shpageeza,” he recalls. So what are his final thoughts? “It was an experience I did not want to have but I knew that something was going to happen. I am glad I went there. I was also glad to see the newborn Test country looking for youngsters. The biggest lesson I learnt was that you must stand by your mates.” (India Times)
By Vijay Tagore, Bangalore Mirror Bureau