... at cricket.
In a world going increasingly bonkers, today this small sporting footnote from the ICC Associates World T20 qualifier in Dubai provides some much needed sanity. Over the years cricket has had a worthwhile history of resolving political problems on the sporting field, without bloodshed. On a day in which the world remembers Nelson Mandela's release 20 years ago, it shouldn't be forgotten that the Test cricket boycott from 1971 hurt South Africa more than any other political sanction. The furores surrounding the rebel cricket tours in those years helped to bring home the need for change. And more recently in Asia when Pakistan and India were building up their nuclear arsenals and gearing themselves up for war, the realization that a conflict would stop them playing cricket against each other was one of the key factors in the negotiated settlement.
For balance it should be said that there have been a few political problems started on the cricket field too with Bodyline in the 1930s causing the biggest ever rift between Australia and England and more recently with Zimbabwe's cricket problems only seeming to magnify their issues. But just possibly today a small step towards normality was played out in Dubai when two countries who are at war met on a sporting arena and decided who was the best armed only with a ball and a bat. At stake was a chance to take part in a world cricket tournament with the major Test nations such as Australia and England in the West Indies later this year. With a few places available, the secondary nations are competing such as Ireland, Scotland, Kenya, Canada. Amongst those second-rate teams the Afghan team and the USA were thought to be distinctly third-rate and yet both have surprised with good performances. Afghanistan and USA both beat Scotland. Then USA lost to Ireland and Afghanistan beat them. This was a major shock as Ireland are by some distance the best of the second-rate teams. This led to a situation in which whoever won today would stand a good chance of getting the ultimate goal of a place in the World T20 competition.
The statistics of the game are that Afghanistan made 135/4 (a decent score, but not a commanding one) and in reply USA were always behind the scoring rate and despite some late lusty hitting they limped to 106/7. But the numbers don't matter. Just getting there was an achievement. They played, someone won, and nobody died. Now Afghanistan can continue to give the people back home hope of a better future, one that can be achieved the proper way with googlies, on-drives and maiden overs. And maybe the USA will be so encouraged they'll give up baseball and start playing a proper sport too!