Game of Free­dom

Cricket be­comes a game of hope in this novel set in the Tal­iban coun­try

India Today - - LEISURE - By Gil­lian Wright

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.

SAU­RABH SINGH/ www. in­di­a­to­day­im­ages. com

THE TAL­IBAN CRICKET CLUB

by Timeri N. Mu­rari Aleph Price: RS 595 Pages: 325

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