Murtaza Ahmadi: The “little Afghan Messi” is now homeless in Afghanistan

Murtaza Ahmadi: The "little Afghan Messi" is now homeless in Afghanistan

The story of Murtaza Ahmadi, the “little Afghan Messi” touched everyone in 2016. But after the dream of meeting the soccer star, the little boy shares his present story, the nightmare of the innumerable, displaced by the conflict with the Taliban.


Little Murtaza resided with his family in the Jaghori district of the southern province of Ghazni in Afghanistan, considered the safest and most peaceful area in the last 17 years of conflict, but the calmness ended in early November when the Taliban stormed the region, forcing more than two thirds of the population to flee in search of refuge.

Image Credit: AFP

“I miss our house in Jaghori, I do not have a ball here and I cannot play football or go out,”

lamented the young boy, where he and his family have taken refuge for two weeks. Murtaza, his parents, and his four brothers live in a more than modest room in a building shared with a neighbor in one of the hills in the west of the capital, after having stopped for a while in the neighboring province of Bamyan.

Image Credit: AFP

The boy’s eyes fill with tears when he remembers that the two signed shirts and the ball that Messi gave him, who he came to know in 2016 in Qatar, were left at home.

“We had to leave them behind in Jaghori,” he explained. “We could not bring them because we left the house during the night, and Mom asked me to leave the ball and the shirts.”

Afghan security forces have expelled insurgents from the area, but the family has decided not to return to the village. And that is before the Taliban broke into the region in November, the family received continuous telephone threats because of the sudden fame of Murtaza, said his older brother, Humayoon Ahmadi, 17 years.

“After Murtaza met Messi in Qatar, the situation became complicated and we lived in fear because people around us thought that Messi had given us a lot of money,” Ahmadi lamented.

The young man related how at times unknown people roamed the house at nightfall and relatives faced threats.

“Because of all this, we were afraid that he would be kidnapped and we practically locked up Murtaza at home and we did not send him to school for two years,” he summarized.

Until the threats became unbearable, the family took the path of exile to Pakistan in May 2016, hoping to reach the United States.

However, the request was rejected after a few months and Murtaza, his parents and brothers were forced to return to their village, where they have been displaced now because of the conflict. They are not the only ones, only this year, more than 300,000 people have moved and live in difficult conditions, relying above all on government and non-governmental organization assistance. This is the case of the family of the young follower of Messi, who depended on the income obtained in their farms and in Kabul goes ahead with the help of relatives and NGOs.

Two years after coming face to face with Messi, Murtaza has not forgotten a promise made by the Argentine on his trip to Qatar.

“Messi told me ‘when you’re a little older, I’ll fix things for you”, said the boy, before regretting that he has not had contact with the player since then.

“Take me with you, I cannot play soccer here, there’s only ‘daz-dooz’ here,” he asked, imitating the sound of explosions and shots.

“Every time he hears a bomb or the sound of a gunshot, he runs to hide under my chador,” explained his mother, Shafiqa, 38.

 

Afghanistan and India level scores in a dead rubber

Afghanistan and India level scores in a dead rubber

With India having already sealed a place in the finals and Afghanistan already eliminated, few would have expected the game to have piqued as much interest as it eventually did. Afghan keeper-batsman Mohammad Shahzad produced a scintillating hundred as the two teams Tied the match on September 25, in Dubai. The toss was won by Afghanistan, wherein there was a surprising albeit familiar sight in the form of MS Dhoni standing-in for Rohit Sharma in his 200th ODI as a captain.

 

Of the opening stand of 65, Shahzad scored 56 runs while his partner Javed Ahmadi could only score a meager 5 off 30 deliveries. The introduction of the spin duo of Ravindra Jadeja and Kuldeep Yadav brought smiles back into the Indian dressing room as they began dismantling the Afghan top and middle order, reducing them from 65/0 in the 13th over to 82/4 in the 16th. Gulbadin Naib forged a 50-run partnership with the swashbuckling Shahzad but perished off a Chahar delivery while on 15. After Nabi’s departure, India did extremely well to peg Afghanistan back, conceding merely 9 runs off the final 3 overs, restricting Afghanistan to 252/8. Shahzad was obviously the pick of the batsmen with his 124 off 116 balls, complete with 11 boundaries and 7 towering sixes, giving his idol Dhoni a lot to worry about throughout the innings. Jadeja and Kuldeep were the picks of the Indian bowlers, returning with figures of 3/46 and 2/38 off their quota of 10 overs respectively.

Chasing 253 off their 50, India looked set on course for yet another comfortable victory in the Asia Cup. The opening duo put on a stand of 110 within 18 overs, scoring twin half-centuries with ease.  However, Rayudu’s dismissal in the 18th over brought forth a slew of wickets as the Afghan spinners tore into the Indian middle order Dinesh Karthik tried to hold fort at one end, knocking the ball around en route to a sedate 66-ball 44, before being caught leg-before by Nabi, which was seen in replays to have been a dubious decision by the umpire. That left India at 207/6 at the end of the 40th over, with the required run rate in control, but Jadeja being the only recognized batsman left. The pressure from the Afghan bowlers also ensured that the required rate crept up, and with 3 overs remaining, India needed 17 with 3 wickets in hand and Jadeja and Kuldeep at the crease. Captain Asghar Afghan then turned to Rashid Khan, his ace, to bowl the 48th and 50th overs.

The last over Jadeja with 7 to win off Rashid’s last over with tail-ender Khaleel for company. However, the tension seemed all for naught when Jadeja hoiked the second ball over mid-wicket, for what looked like a score-leveling sixer, but was judged by the third umpire to be merely a boundary. A couple of singles off subsequent deliveries brought India’s score level at 252. However, off the fifth ball, needing merely one run to win, Jadeja- who had till they made a very sensible 25 – managed to hole out to Najibullah Zadran, the only man Asghar had left outside the 30-yard circle. Zadran came running in to catch Jadeja’s mistimed shot and kept running with the smile of a victor, smiles that were shared by the entire Afghan team. They may not have won a single match in the Super Four stage of the Asia Cup, but their spirited performances showed that they belonged on the stage, and the tie against India ensures that they would at least take a point home from the contest.

Shahzad was deservedly awarded the Man-of-the-Match award, with his swashbuckling effort in the midst of wickets collapsing at the other end, winning plaudits all around. India, meanwhile, would be licking their wounds from this tie, seeking solace from the fact that it was a second-string side they featured, as they look forward to tomorrow’s clash between Bangladesh and Pakistan to see who it is that shall face them in the final.

Asia Cup: Shardul Thakur and Khaleel Ahmed likely to start for India!

Asia Cup, India, Shardul Thakur and Khaleel Ahmed

The Indian team, last one to arrive at the UAE, finally begin their campaign in the 14th edition of the Asia Cup today. They’re set to take on Hong Kong on September 18, at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium. With Virat Kohli being rested, opener Rohit Sharma is set to lead a rather empirical Indian side. India was has clubbed with Hong Kong and Pakistan in the same group. The other two played against each other on Sunday, September 16 in which Pakistan had secured an easy win against Hong Kong.

The Indian squad for the Asia Cup contest was announced on September 1. Familiar faces are hoped to be seen in the team for today. Rohit Sharma along with Dhawan will open for India today. In fact in Virat Kohli’s absence, the Sharma-Dhawan opening pair is going to be the key to India’s performance throughout the tournament. The rest of the most probable team, especially the middle order, looks pretty much settled too with familiar names in it. KL Rahul will be replacing Kohli at number 3.

The fourth, fifth, and sixth spot will be taken by Ambati Rayadu, MS Dhoni and Kedar Jadhav respectively. With Kedar Jadhav in the side, the other major role of a finisher should be assigned to Hardik Pandya who will likely take the seventh spot. Two out of the next four spots are most likely to be taken by the spinners Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal. But given to the fixtures India has assigned with, the other two spots can be tricky.

Fixtures: 

September 18 vs Hong Kong, Dubai 

September 19 vs Pakistan, Dubai

(Both matches start at 5 pm IST)

Asia Cup: Look out for the rookies – Shardul Thakur and Khaleel Ahmed

With back to back matches for India, they might want to rest the regular quicks Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar today. The much-awaited India-Pakistan clash is set to take place tomorrow and India would likely have their regular quicks saved for that. In the light of it, new faces like Shardul Thakur(right-arm medium pacer) and Khaleel Ahmed(left-arm medium pacer) might get a chance against Hong Kong today. As we know, the Mumbaikar Shardul Thakur had played his ODI debut against Sri Lanka last year. This year though, in the Nidahas trophy, he had produced his career-best figures of 4/27 in one match. He has played a total of four ODI matches for India and could give his best in today’s match against Hong Kong. Along with his name, Khaleel Ahmed – a reliable name from the U-19s who is yet to make an international debut- could also be picked to add a fresh left-right combination in the fast bowlers’ set. Also, since Bhuvneshwar Kumar has been away from the international scene for a while, he might be incorporated to today’s playing XI just as a warm-up for tomorrow’s big game.

Asia Cup: India look to get rid of vulnerability in the middle-order

Dhoni batting at number four is ideal, says Rohit Sharma

Whether the organizers and other stakeholders agree or not, this 14th edition of the Asia Cup is nothing but a dress rehearsal of next year’s World Cup. As all the teams (apart from Hong Kong, who will not feature in 2019 World Cup) are building a settled squad keeping next year’s premier event mind, the 50-over version of the Asia Cup in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) provides an ideal opportunity for the team management to try out new combinations.

Well, from the Indian point of view, it is a perfect opportunity to work on their vulnerable middle-order. With no Virat Kohli in the batting line-up, these Asia Cup matches will be like an audition for the likes of KL Rahul, Ambati Rayudu, Manish Pandey, Dinesh Karthik, and Kedar Jadhav to keep themselves in the scheme of things of the selectors. India are still in the search of permanent No. 4 batsman in the limited-overs side. Hence, these youngsters should make the most of their chances.

Nevertheless, if we look at India’s most likely team combination, only three among Rahul, Rayudu, Karthik, and Jadhav are likely to feature in the starting XI against Hong Kong on Tuesday. In that case, Rayudu, who averages 50 in ODI cricket may take the No. 3 position. Remember, he was picked in England bound ODI team as well but dropped at the last moment failing to prove his fitness in the controversial Yo-Yo Test.

Considering his experience, Dinesh Karthik can be tried out at No. 4. With his touch-play, the Chennai boy can keep the scoreboard running in the middle-overs which actually is the primary requirement of a No. 4 batsman in the ODI format. Whereas Kedar Jadhav, who is making a comeback in the side after an injury, should be given the role of a finisher along with Hardik Pandya. Also, Jadhav can chip with his part-time off-spin as well. On these slow-low pitches, he can be more than handy with the ball.

Meanwhile, it looks like Pandey and Rahul have to wait for their turn. But as we move forward in this competition, they are likely to be tried out as well.    

Likely Indian XI against Hong Kong: Rohit Sharma(C), Shikhar Dhawan, Ambati Rayudu, Dinesh Karthik, MS Dhoni (WK), Kedar Jadhav, Hardik Pandya, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Khaleel Ahmed/Jasprit Bumrah.

Afghanistan in Ireland: First One Day International Match

Ireland vs Afghanistan One Day International Series, 27th August: The First One Day International between Ireland and Afghanistan kept the touring team’s winning spree alive. They are overall unbeaten in this limited-overs competition. 

 

After a T20I series completely dominated by Afghanistan in Bready, the action moved forward to Belfast on Monday. The two teams were set to play the first of the three ODI matches. The touring team had the advantage of the momentum that got carried over from their T20I series win against Ireland just a couple of days prior to the start of the ODI series. The Afghanistan team was making their 99th ODI appearance, the first of which was played way back in 2006. Eventually, Afghanistan engaged the home team into a low-scoring thriller to win the first ODI by a commendable 29 runs!

 

Bowler Driven, AGAIN!

 

Despite losing the two T20 international matches in chases, Ireland captain William Porterfield chose to bowl first after winning the Toss. The Afghan hero with the bat and the ‘Player of the series’ from the recently concluded T20I, Hazratullah Zazai, was included in the ODI squad and was also selected for the first match. It didn’t work out quite well for him as he was dismissed cheaply for 14 by Boyd Rankin. The 2nd wicket fell soon and Afghanistan was two down for 25. The 3rd and 4th wicket partnerships added fifty-plus each, 53 and 77 respectively. These two partnerships had put Afghanistan in a way better position and on the fall of the 4th wicket they were on 155. Irish quicks- Rankin bagged three, while Tim Murtagh picked up four wickets. Afghanistan had a total of 227 for 9 on board at the end of 50 overs. 

 

Image result for mujeeb ur rahman
Mujeeb Ur Rahman celebrating a wicket. (Twitter@ICC)

Afghanistan’s answer to defending a relatively low score according to today’s ODI standards was rather crisp. The bowlers used the slow surface to their total advantage and dismissed all ten Irish batsmen for 198 in 48.3 overs. The only fifty plus score was in Andy Balbirnie’s account who scored 55. Even when the required run rate was under control and the Irish batsmen were getting the grip, Mujeeb Ur Rahman stepped foot and changed the game with the best economy rate for the day. Not a single bowler from the Afghan side was hit for more than 4 an over. Speaks a lot about their control and an overall balance between the batting and bowling units. 

 

What’s next

 

The ODI series followed the same libretto as the T20I series in terms of being bowler-dominated. The two teams in question received their Test status together from the ICC, a year back. And now as we move forward, the 2nd ODI between them is set to be the 100th ODI for Afghanistan. If they emerge victorious on the instance of their 100th ODI appearance, it will also be a series victory for them. 

 

Scorecard Summary

Afghanistan 227 for 9 (Naib 64, Shahidi 54, Murtagh 4 for 31, Rankin 3 for 44) beat Ireland 198 (Balbirnie 55, Wilson 38, Alam 2 for 34, Rashid 2 for 41) by 29 runs

 

Afghanistan in Ireland T20I Series: Starter Pack closes with abandoned final T20I match

Afghanistan in Ireland T20I Series: Starter Pack closes with abandoned final T20I match

The 3rd and the final T20I game between Ireland and Afghanistan, scheduled on 24th of August, was abandoned due to wet outfield.

Heavy overnight rain and a wet outfield forced the abandonment of the third T20I between Ireland and Afghanistan in Bready. (AFP)

The touring team had already sealed the three-match series 2-0 and were looking forward to a whitewash in the closing game. Whereas, the home team was in desperate need of recovering from their losing streak. The final T20I was scheduled to be hosted at Bready but was abandoned without a ball being bowled. There was heavy rainfall overall and consequently a wet outfield which forced the match to abandonment.

The first two matches

What can an on-point spin attack not achieve across all formats, in any part of the world? The first and the second T20I, both, were witnesses to a collective effort from the Afghani spinners into dismantling the Irish batting line up. About the batting? Well, one name summed up the entire series – the eventual man of the series Hazratullah Zazai.

This left-handed batsman was playing his first T20I game since Dec 2016, which was his first. So in his overall 2nd T20I innings, he scored a match-winning 74 off 33 against Ireland on Monday. A consolidated attack from the bowlers added to it as Afghanistan saw it’s way to victory in the first T20 international match in this series. 

Zazai recreated another such inning in the 2nd T20I held on the 22nd of August. He scored an excellent 82 off 54 in Aghanistan’s total of 160 for 8. The 2nd highest runs were made by captain Asghar Afghan, in both the matches with scores of 31 and 37. We could easily see how Zazai led the batting front almost single-handedly. It was the Afghani spinners thought who later on stole the show by bowling the home team out for 79! Only William Porterfield and Irish skipper Gary Wilson scored in double digits- 22 and 33, respectively. Rashid Khan claimed four wickets and Mujeeb Ur Rahman bagged three. 

What’s next?

Afganistan had secured a massive victory of 81 runs against Ireland and thus sealed the three-match series- 2-0. Zazai was awarded the Man of the series award, after the third match was abandoned, for his two half-centuries. The scene now moves forward from Bready to Stormont which is set to host a three-match ODI series between these two teams. With Afghanistan having already gained momentum in this tour, we could be expecting a tight competition as the home team would target to make a hit of a comeback under captain William Porterfield. The 1st ODI is scheduled on Monday 27th August, at Belfast. 

Unstoppable Rashid Khan: Setting further milestones and world records!

Rashid Khan

Rashid Khan has now become an internationally acclaimed star-bowler and sensation after his great performance in this IPL. Certainly, a lot of SRH fans would be looking forward to next year’s games. Just when I feel, Rashid Khan has proven himself enough, I am constantly proven wrong. Not only has the 19-year-old set fire during the IPL games but also has successfully set new records and milestones for other emerging as well as existing cricketers to follow. Khan emerged out of the IPL, second in line for the purple cap, by scoring 21 wickets. 

Recently, Afghanistan played against Bangladesh and emerged victories by taking six wickets down, in 11 overs, by the combined efforts of Mohammad Nabi, Rashid Khan, and Mujeeb Ur Rahman. Rashid Khan, alone holding a figure of 3/13. Khan has also worked his way into the small group of 18 cricketers who have scored 50 T2OI wickets, positioning himself in the topmost league of cricketers. The very talented spinner has set a world record by crossing the 50 mark in the shortest time period!. He has a successfully scored 51 wickets in just 31 matches. 

However, he does not stop here. He has crossed another great record of 100 wickets of ODI in 52 games, set by Mitchell Starc. This record is 18 years old, set when Khan was just a year old. Khan broke his record by scoring a 100 runs in 44 matches, 8 matches lesser than his predecessor. He is the fastest bowler, securing a place on the top. Currently, ranked at the second position in ODI cricket, it will be no surprise if he races to the top very soon and becomes the number one ODI cricketer. 

Love and appreciation are pouring in for the young cricketer who most certainly has a bright future!