Pakistan cricketers will play their first Twenty20 match in Afghanistan’s capital later this year, officials from the nations said on Saturday, as the neighbors put aside political tensions for two upcoming friendlies.
The announcement of the games, the first of which is scheduled for July or August, comes as Islamabad and Kabul face off over border skirmishes and terrorism. The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), which has long advocated supporting its war-ravaged neighbor to boost the game in the region, also promised to provide Afghanistan’s players with a ground to use as their base, in an apparent move to counter India’s growing influence.
PCB Chairman Shaharyar Khan said politics would not be allowed to interfere in cricket, referring to the recent strained relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan. “This visit by Afghan board head has helped in renewing the bond of friendship,” Khan told a press conference in Lahore after a meeting with his Afghan counterpart Atif Mashal.
Khan said the first friendly would be held in Kabul, followed by a second fixture in Pakistan. An international series was also agreed between the two countries and slated for an unspecified later date.
Afghanistan’s Mashal said that while the boards were “trying to keep sports—especially cricket—away from politics,” he hoped the matches would have an impact. “I hope this tour should be used to positively influence the political arena and create a good atmosphere between the two friendly nations,” he said.
Afghans learned to play cricket in refugee camps in Pakistan after they were forced to leave their homes in the wake of the Soviet invasion in 1979. The sport struggled to get a foothold in Afghanistan under the hardline Islamist Taliban, but has become hugely popular in the country since the regime was toppled in a U.S.-led invasion in 2001.
While Pakistan has supported the Afghan team by supplying equipment and arranging fixtures with the fledgling side, rival India has also been keen to lend its support. Last year, Afghanistan’s national team shifted its base from Sharjah in United Arab Emirates to Noida, Delhi, while India’s former batsman Lalchand Rajput replaced Pakistan’s Inzamam-ul-Haq as their national team coach.