• ‘Cricket can deter youth from drugs’ says Hamid Shinwari

‘Cricket can deter youth from drugs’ says Hamid Shinwari

17 February 2015

by Hamid Shinwari

Hamid Shinwari, former Head of Afghan Cricket Board, on the country’s first appearance in World Cup

As Afghanistan plays its first ICC World Cup, which seemed only a dream five years ago, we have interviewed Hamid Shinwari. He is one of the men who helped make this dream a reality. Among other points, he speaks about why we should care about cricket in Afghanistan.

Please briefly tell us about your cricket career in Afghanistan.

I was CEO of the Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB) for two terms in 2010 and 2012.  Before that, I played cricket for over 15 years.

Before the ACB was established there were very few regional or provincial cricket teams and facilities. During my time at the ACB, we were able to build grounds in Kabul, Nangarhar and 28 other provinces.  We established a training academy, which trains both players and coaches. In addition, we have established a women’s cricket team.  This was a requirement of our membership of the Asian Cricket Committee (ACC) and associate membership of the International Cricket Council (ICC).

What are your thoughts on the Afghanistan cricket team’s achievements to date and their prospects for success in the World Cup?

The team’s passion, teamwork and most importantly its strong self-belief are commendable and positive traits, contributing to Afghanistan’s many victories in the last few years.

The national team has the skills to compete positively with any of the cricketing giants. Though we have only recently earned ODI (one day international) status in 2009, we have beaten leading cricket nations such as Bangladesh and Pakistan.

We have achieved a huge amount in a short time – in 2010 the Afghanistan Cricket Board developed a 5 year strategy, the culmination of which was for us to play in the 2015 Cricket World Cup.  To qualify for that has been one of our, and my, greatest achievements.  We now have a cadre of high performing cricketers to compete at the international level.

The prospects for the World Cup are good.  The players’ skills are based upon a bed-rock of strong planning and practice, critical before playing matches in an event of this size.  But this will be a challenging tournament.

What are the strengths and weaknesses of Afghan Cricket in your view?

Afghanistan produces naturally fit and fast cricketers – partly due to our mountainous and difficult environment.  We have a number of fit cricketers in the current squad, including Shaifiqullah Shafaq, Jawed Ahmadi, Najibullah Zadran,Nowroz Mangal and Gulbuddin Nayeb.

We’re good at bowling, particularly fast bowling.  But it is a shame we are not as good at spin bowling.  This is partly due to that strength and fitness we have and partly due to our mentality.  We play in a region that is good at spin bowling and Afghanistan suffers from this weakness.  The pitch in our region is good for spin bowling so we really need to improve this.

Psychologically, we need to improve the team’s mental readiness.  They cannot rely on skills alone. 

Our cricketers face many challenges.  This includes a lack of match practice with the top cricketing nations.  Insufficient facilities are another key impediment to further improving the game. Both quality and quantity is lacking.  There is only one indoor academy for the whole nation, which is in Kabul.  In the colder provinces, it’s almost impossible to play and practice in the winter, since there are no indoor facilities.  Additionally, a lot of players do not have the necessary kit - many are too poor to buy this.

These issues require long term investment.  We need to support young talented cricketers and build their skills.  School-level projects will be very helpful for this.

Overall though, our naturally talented, passionate and fit cricketers, along with the nation’s unlimited support of the game, are our key strengths.

Many people consider sport a force for unity inside Afghanistan and something that could change the image of Afghanistan internationally.  What have been your observations and experiences of this?

Cricket plays an important role in national unity and in community development in Afghanistan. In the 2010 Asian Games, Afghanistan won its semi final against Pakistan, which was a significant game and result for our nation.  I received a great number of calls of congratulation – from the President, from other Afghan political leaders, and from the public across the nation, including non-cricket playing areas.

When Afghanistan wins an important cricket game there are street celebrations, the TV commentary lasts for days, the whole nation shares in the happiness.  This is important for a country suffering so much from war, so deprived of opportunities for happiness.  But this is not only the case for cricket – other sports such as football and taekwondo are sources of national pride and unity.

Any other benefits?

Cricket also contributes to positive youth development in the country. We have many youth with low education, facing poverty and radicalization. Through sport we can tackle these issues – involving youth in social projects and voluntary work in their communities.  Local cricketers have participated in ‘cleaner city’ campaigns.  Some clubs provide literacy courses and numerical training for their members.

I have seen a rising spirit of caring and social contribution in these young players.  Those showing leadership skills are sometimes offered places in provincial cricket teams; this is an incentive for them.

Cricket has played a part in peace building and other projects efforts initiated by UN agencies and others.  We have partnered with UNICEF, with UNFPA, we’ve joined drugs awareness raising projects.  Another example is of hashar – voluntary work – to raise awareness on healthcare issues.  Unfortunately, this is a male dominated society, so it is important to offer boys a larger role in addressing health and other issues.

What we lack in statistics we can report in success stories:  Rayees Ahmadzai, a former national captain, is a UNICEF national goodwill ambassador, Hamid Hassan (a fast bowler) is brand ambassador of mobile phone company Etsalat.

What role could the international community (NGOs, donors, the public) play in supporting cricket in Afghanistan?

They can support the development of facilities and training.  They can help prepare young cricketers to represent Afghanistan in the future. NGOs and the public could support people with disabilities to access cricket. During my tenure at ACB, for the first time in Afghanistan, ACB introduced cricket for disabled people. Some provincial and regional tournaments took place. Our slogan was “Disability is not inability”.  Now, Afghanistan has a national disabled cricket team.

What else do you think our readers should know about Afghan cricket?

I believe advancing cricket in Afghanistan can play a significant role in the country’s peace building and development. Unfortunately two things often attract youth, especially the poor and illiterate – drugs and terrorism.  Cricket and other sports can deviate their attention to more positive attainments. 

Cricketers become role models.  Once in that role they receive huge support and encouragement from spectators and the general public – they become trapped in this role!  

And finally, who do you think will win the 2015 Cricket World Cup? 

I think three nations are contenders - Australia, New Zealand and India. According to my calculations (host country, weather, pitch and overall environment), Australia remains the favorite to win the World Cup. They are a strong team together and composed of very strong individuals, all of whom are in good form. They are good planners strategically, and plan well against every individual team they have played in recent years. 

But chance and luck has a large role in cricket! So you never know.  

So any chance for Afghanistan? 

I think we’ll enjoy it more if we win the 2019 World Cup played in England and Wales!