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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 October 2018

'I would never miss this match': Afghan expats celebrate Asia Cup cricket match against Sri Lanka

Fans say fixture offers a chance to forget about the fighting back home

Sahid Jahaan, a supporter of the Afghanistan cricket team, carrying the Afghan flag outside the Sheikh Zayed Cricket Stadium in Abu Dhabi. Pawan Singh / The National 
Sahid Jahaan, a supporter of the Afghanistan cricket team, carrying the Afghan flag outside the Sheikh Zayed Cricket Stadium in Abu Dhabi. Pawan Singh / The National 

Hundreds of Afghan cricket fans living in the UAE took the day off on Monday to watch their Asia Cup match against Sri Lanka.

Many residents in the UAE from the war-torn nation said sport, particularly cricket, had emerged as a source of great relief from the misery of news of the continued violence and fighting back home.

At the Zayed Cricket Stadium in Abu Dhabi, hundreds of taxi drivers, labourers and others gathered to cheer on their team.

Fans said the match was a chance to celebrate their nation and forget about being away from family and loved-ones.

“I would never miss this match,” said Abdul Jaleel Othman, 32, an Afghan expatriate who works as a taxi driver.

“I managed to take this day off to watch it with friends. Loyalty is crucial to Afghan cricket fans.”

The Afghan war is the longest conflict in US history, with no sign of an end in sight.

Afghan supporters gather before the start of Asia Cup UAE 2018 cricket match between Afghanistan and Sri Lanka in Abu Dhabi. Pawan Singh / The National 
Afghan supporters gather before the start of Asia Cup UAE 2018 cricket match between Afghanistan and Sri Lanka in Abu Dhabi. Pawan Singh / The National 

Most experts agree the country is more unstable now than at any point in its recent history. Today, the Taliban control more territory in nation’s 34 provinces than they have since their removal from power in 2001. Their ability to carry out attacks against government forces remains devastating.

Speaking to The National, Mr Othman said he worked in the UAE to help support his family back home.

He said he was a huge cricket fan and the match against Sri Lanka offered the perfect opportunity to take some rare time off with friends.

“There is war in my country and the situation there has been the same for almost two decades,” he said.

“My two daughters, wife, and mother all live there. We’ve got used to it. I organised taking the day off today to watch the match and I’m planning on listening to future matches over the radio.”

Mohammed Sadiq, a 20-year-old Afghan who works in the emirates as a gardener, said he planned to watch all the Asia Cup matches being played in the UAE.

“It’s an opportunity to leave work and family stress behind.

“There is so much trouble in my home country but we’re still hoping the bombing and shooting will stop soon.

“I’m planning to go there for one month soon to see my family. It’s nice to watch the match here in the stadium as back home we do not have such privileges.”

Sri Lankan supporter cheers on her team at the Asian Cup in Abu Dhabi. Pawan Singh / The National 
Sri Lankan supporter cheers on her team at the Asian Cup in Abu Dhabi. Pawan Singh / The National 

On Monday, Afghanistan captain Asghar Afghan won the toss and opted to bat in the Asia Cup Group B match.

Sri Lanka, who lost the opening match to Bangladesh by 137 runs in Dubai, made three changes to their line up, bringing in spinners Akila Dananjaya, Shehan Jayasriya and Niroshan Dickwella.

Speaking from the stadium, Othman Saeed, a 23-year-old Afghan labourer, also said the game offered an opportunity to unwind.

“I truly cannot believe what is happening at Afghanistan,” he said. “We just pray that everyone be extra cautious.

“I am just enjoying my day with friends and cricket is our favourite sport. If we win, me and my friends will host a party.”

Saeed and every Afghan fan did get to party eventually in a happy ending as the team beat Sri Lanka by 91 runs and knocking the rivals out of the tournament.

With Sri Lanka losing both matches, Afghanistan's second group game with Bangladesh is a dress rehearsal for both teams.