A nation of over a billion people awaits with bated breaths as the task of defending its crown as World Champions draws closer. However, for the minnows and the teams formerly known as associates, it is history in the making. This is especially true for the Afghanistan National Cricket Team and their tryst with destiny this February, which will finally culminate a decade long journey from being the lowest ranked nation at the 90th position to having a ball with the very best.
Yet, Afghanistan’s love affair with the game would have been spurned like its kites if not for the temperamental, foul-mouthed and enthusiastic Pashtun, Taj Malik. From the refugee camp of Kacha Gari to beating Pakistan’s division league teams with second-hand equipment, Malik and his brothers were the team even as they dodged threats from the Taliban. Even as he retired from playing active cricket, his rigorous and ardent exercise of cricketing basics to young lads and his indomitable spirit would embolden the team to climb up the ICC ladder, finally qualifying for the ICC T20 in 2012.
He has persevered against all odds to make Afghanistan a competitive cricket team, first as a player and later, as a coach and a cricket administrator, with over 12,000 children today enrolled in its cricket academy today. Come 2015 however, Taj Malik is on the periphery of Afghan cricket. Yet, his presence reverberates through the very fabric of the team in spirit. This sentiment is echoed by the team’s captain, Mohammad Nabi who says, ‘Taj Malik is a great man. A hero and inspiration for many who had their dreams blown to dust.’
‘A hero,’ Nabi says. But, who exactly is a hero? Society traditionally has convinced us of heroes as having extraordinary superpowers or the ability to stand tall, as a victor or a martyr against all odds. It sees such people as heroes while conveniently neglecting heroism in ordinary people.
Taj Malik. An ordinary man who acted out of hardship to achieve something extraordinary. Hameed Hassan, the team’s fast bowler says this about him, ‘I don’t think he cried when he saw people dying out there. Perhaps, because he knows that cricket is our only chance.’ He is a hero then, a provocateur to dreams, an instrument in making people realize the possibilities of uncertainty. Above all, and perhaps at his simplest, Malik provided hope, showing people that there is another way, and that they are free to choose it.
Taj Malik is exactly that. A hero, albeit an unsung one. A man among mortals, who struggled, fought and finally persevered against everything to bring the gentleman’s game to his country. And, he’s not the only one. Every team once rises from the ashes, unsung and unheralded, thanks to no small part to their heroes. And sooner or later, they do come out winning. Upsets, they are so dismissively called yet, how can a sport be sport if it’s not unpredictable and interesting. Such teams and heroes do that, and the game needs them.
ESPN writer Jarrod Kimber wrote of Malik as such, ‘He has given his country a positive story during some of their darkest days. He’s given them sporting heroes. He’s given them victories. And he’s given cricket. They will lose more games than they win, but them playing and participating in cricket’s mega-event is one of the most amazing victories in cricket history. A victory for the country, the sport, and Taj Malik, cricket hero.’
By- Jibin Mathew George