Kabul, Feb 11: Known for their threats and violent attacks, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid called up the Afghanistan Cricket Board to convey a message of support to the Afghanistan national cricket team before their one-dayer against neighbours Pakistan in Sharjah.
Afghanistan were playing their first ODI against a Test-playing nation which they expectedly lost by seven wickets but not before winning hearts with their gritty display.
"President (Hamid) Karzai is watching and has phoned several times to get the latest news. Even the opposition Taliban have sent a message of support. Their spokesman said we are praying for the success of the team," said Afghanistan Cricket Board chairman Dr Omar Zakhilwal, who is also the Minister of Finance.
"Cricket is not just a game for us. We have had so much bad news in Afghanistan. But cricket - and this game against Pakistan - has brought good news for the people of a country who have suffered so much in the past. This is a proud day."
"There is nothing that can touch cricket in popularity or as a force for good in Afghanistan. There is absolutely nothing else that mobilises our society in the same way. Not politics, political events or reconstruction," he added.
" I am personally a fan of cricket, I will follow this match closely," Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid told AFP prior to the match.
Asked which side he would support, given reported backing for the insurgents from within Pakistan, he replied: "I pray that Afghans come out as winners."
Afghanistan have no more ODIs against Full Member nations.
"The top teams shy away from playing us. I suppose they feel the benefits of beating us are small but the pain of losing to us would be great. We are pushing India, Australia, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka for games as only by playing them can we improve and take cricket to the next step in our country," Zakhilwal said.
"The story of cricket in Afghanistan only started about ten years ago when people returned from the refugee camps in Pakistan. But there is something about the game that seems to appeal to the psyche of the Afghan people. It has created a sense of unity and happiness that has brought people together. This match is breaking the ice. But we want to be part of the big club," he added.