Game of Freedom
Cricket becomes a game of hope in this novel set in the Taliban country
When the Afghan national side played its first ever ODI against a Test- playing country this February, the Taliban joined President Hamid Karzai in sending messages of support for the team. The whole nation was said to be glued to the television, and even though Pakistan won by seven wickets, the Afghan Tigers, as they’re known, acquitted themselves more than respectably.
The story of the rise of Afghan cricket merits not one but many novels. In five years, with poor facilities, they climbed from the fifth to the first division of the World Cricket League and were ranked ninth in International Twenty20. In a three- day match in April, they defeated the Netherlands with an unbeaten 84 scored by 18- year- old Afsar Zalzal, clinching the match. Later this year, their Under- 19s will take on India’s in Brisbane.
Historically, the story of Afghan cricket begins in the refugee camps in Pakistan after the Russian invasion of 1979, where boys joined local kids playing the game. Here one young man, Taj Malik, the father of Afghan cricket, was dreaming of an Afghan team.
In The Taliban Cricket Club, Timeri N. Murari has taken inspiration not from Malik but from Sovietperiod sporting news, and the Taliban’s strange decision to give limited approval to cricket. Murari then leaps into pure fiction by making his central character, an Afghan cricket guru, a woman journalist who learned her sport during her college days in Delhi. There is a touch of Elizabeth from Lagaan ( woman teaching cricket- ignorant men, with a lot at stake), and Rani Mukherjee from Dil Bole Hadippa! ( false beard and male impersonation) about Ruksana. Still Murari knows how to pace his tale and create credible characters. Ruksana with her courage and liveliness is attractive, and her terror of the Taliban is convincing. Brought up in liberal times before the Taliban conquered Kabul, through her experience the author paints a stark picture of the Taliban takeover with its violence, oppression and toll on human values. The Taliban are portrayed as monsters rather than men, until their unexpected approval of cricket gives the glimmer of hope that forms the core of the suspense and the high drama of this novel.
Murari also leaves space for human warmth, loyalty and romance, but above all, The Taliban Cricket Club is a thrilling tale that keeps you on the edge of your seat to the last.
THE TALIBAN CRICKET CLUB
by Timeri N. Murari Aleph Price: RS 595 Pages: 325