The Afghanistan Cricket Boycott

by Harry on September 21, 2021

I’m only slightly embarrassed that my first thought on seeing the chaotic, if predicted, consequences of the US handover of Afghanistan back to the Taliban was, “what about the cricket?”. Bear with me.

Cricket was at the forefront of the sporting boycott of apartheid, albeit accidentally so. The MCC initially did not select the South African born “cape coloured” player Basil d’Oliviera for the 1969 tour of South Africa, probably for political reasons. The consequent pressure on them, and the ‘injury’ to selected player Tom Cartwright (who, it is rumoured, withdrew in order to increase the pressure to select d’Oliviera), resulted, eventually, in the cancellation of the tour which, in turn, resulted in the widespread boycott. I supported the boycott almost without reservations and certainly without regret.

As things stand it is hard to avoid the conclusion that Afghanistan will face a cricketing boycott which, I suspect, is the only sporting boycott that matters in this case. In the past decade or so cricket as conquered Afghanistan, and Afghanistan, frankly, has conquered cricket, rising from an unknown participant in the third or fourth rank of cricketing nations, to becoming one of only 11 Test playing countries, with some of the best and most sought-after short from players in the world; no other sport comes close to it.

I am far more regretful about this one than about the South African boycott. Here are some thoughts.

First, the reason that the boycott will almost certainly be automatic reflects huge and welcome changes in the sport. One change is that nobody says ‘keep sport and politics separate’ any more. Good grief, I watched a bunch of old mostly white men take the knee on John Paul Getty’s estate recently, led by a Daily Mail journalist (admittedly the author of the book linked to above) who called Sir Michael Holding the ‘patron saint’ of cricket. [1] The other is the rise of women’s cricket. Test playing nations (of which there are 11, including, currently, Afghanistan) must field a women’s, as well as a men’s team. If, as looks likely, indeed has probably already happened, the Taliban prohibits women’s cricket (currently, several members of the national women’s team appear to be in hiding), then Afghanistan will lose its Test playing status. Cricket Australia is currently seeking clarity; unless they get a clear statement — from the government of Afghanistan — that women will continue to play representative cricket in Afghanistan, the historic test with Australia, currently scheduled for November, will be canceled.[2]

The reasons for what will be a de facto boycott are excellent. So why the ambivalence?

The SA government was desperate for inclusion in world sport. fanatical enthusiasm of whites for cricket and rugby meant that exclusion really hurt the ruling white minority where it mattered. But the boycott didn’t hurt non-whites at all: they were already excluded from representative sport. The same is not the case in Afghanistan. After the sudden, startling, rise of Afghan cricket, the Taliban did, indeed, communicate that it would not perform terrorist attacks at cricket matches. But a vague pledge not to bomb cricketers, as a concession to the widespread popularity of the sport does not really imply actual enthusiasm. I don’t think that the boycott will hurt the Taliban: they’d be perfectly ok with the withering away of the sport, as long as its demise can’t be blamed directly on their violence. The boycott will, however, hurt everyone who plays and enjoys the sport, who have hitherto enjoyed the spillover effects, cultural and financial, of being part of the top tier of international game.
Another factor is that nobody seriously doubted that the cricketing infrastructure would remain in South Africa despite the boycott. South African players were free to, and did, play domestic cricket in other countries, and unscrupulous foreign stars (well, white ones) could, and did, play in the Currie Cup. Mixed race cricket was played in crappy facilities and without resources, but it was popular and played widely – it was not repressed, just discriminated against. [An aside: you’ve all heard of Denis Compton and Nick Compton, but why have you never heard of Denis’s son who was Nick’s dad? Its not what you’d expect, and will make you think more highly of Denis than you did]. I don’t have specialist knowledge, but the intimations I have heard suggest that in the face of the Taliban Afghanistan’s cricket infrastructure is very vulnerable. The reason this matters is not just cricket-related: eventually, and we hope sooner rather than later, the Taliban will lose its grip, and we want a stronger rather than a weaker civil society infrastructure to be there when it does.

There’s no conclusion here. Of course I don’t think that the cricketing authorities really have a choice here. And, as I say, the reasons they don’t have a choice reflect tremendous advances in the game. But, it’s another sad thing about the situation we’re in.

[1] Think about the Ollie Robinson affair. Almost nobody inside the game (as opposed to in the leadership of the Tory party) has said he was mistreated by the authorities. The debate within the sport was about whether he should have been treated more harshly with, eg, Simon Mann arguing that he should have been immediately withdrawn from the very match he was playing when the furore began, and others (Michael Carberry, for example) arguing for even harsher treatment. To his credit, Robinson has given every indication that he, like the rest of the sport, does not think he was mistreated.

[2] I emphasize that the statement has to be from the government, because the Afghanistan cricketing authorities have already stated its intention to continue with women’s cricket.



Tim Worstall 09.21.21 at 4:08 pm

“never heard of Denis’s son who was Nick’s dad?”

OK, I give in. Having tracked down the Wiki piece it doesn’t say.


Harry 09.21.21 at 6:18 pm

Ha! I’m going to give other people about 24 hours to find out/figure it out (I got it from a book, but a reliable one, not the internet).


Mahim 09.21.21 at 7:45 pm

This has the story:

Thank you for mentioning this. I did not think it was possible to think more highly of Denis Compton, but here we are.


Neville Morley 09.21.21 at 7:54 pm

Still not sure, assuming it’s more than just the fact that he and his brother chose to play for NCB teams, but in the course of looking I did come across this interesting article: And thanks for the PST; I have similar very mixed feelings – rather similar to the way I feel about the position of Pakistan as a cricketing nation.


Alan White 09.21.21 at 9:08 pm

“Nick’s dad?” Being frightfully unknowledgeable about cricket–reading your posts has been a real education for me–but still a researcher, is it Richard Cecil Denis Compton? I saw two sources, one an iffy Wiki, that say so. And he seems to have acquitted himself well as a player too.


Alan White 09.21.21 at 9:12 pm

Oh, and I got caught up so much in that search that I forgot to add in my previous post that it’s a tragedy that this all boils down to the Taliban’s intolerance of women’s rights–even to engage in sport. How awful.


Not Trampis 09.21.21 at 11:00 pm

As a cricket fan I think it stupid to say to play test cricket you must have a womens team.
What next you cannot play in the world cup if you do not have a female football team.

You are right on how the sporting boycott affected SA and how this won’t affect the taliban.

And they are punishing the male test cricketers for what and the end is what?


J-D 09.22.21 at 1:30 am

An aside: you’ve all heard of Denis Compton and Nick Compton …

I’m not offended at the way you’ve casually erased me, I’m amused. I could do with the laugh, actually.

Why would I ever have heard of these people?

As a curiosity, the name ‘Denis Compton’ (but not ‘Nick Compton’) was familiar to me, but now I am going to wait twenty-four hours to find out whether anybody can guess why I would have known the name of Denis Compton but literally absolutely nothing else about him.


Harry 09.22.21 at 4:06 am

Thank you. I read the condensed version in Pitch Battles, by Hain and Odendal, which is a wonderful book. They just casually mention Richard Compton as a player of non-racial cricket, and suddenly it clicks into place — he and his brother, both, deciding not to have the kinds of career that only white South Africans who were willing to leave South Africa. What pride must Denis Compton have felt, and what pride must Nick feel? I once saw Denis Compton bat, at a charity match at my cricket club in the late 70s. We were in awe of him. But if we’d known this, my dad and I would have been doubly in awe of him, and most of the other spectators would have been at best indifferent.


engels 09.22.21 at 9:47 am

I’ve never had the least interest in any sport but I’ve found the sudden (and now legally mandatory?) ubiquity of women’s teams in traditionally men’s sports striking. I wonder what is the causation/political logic, and what has happened to the traditional women’s equivalents (rounders, netball, hockey, etc)?


Dan Hardie 09.22.21 at 10:35 am

I think this is right: the ICC and other cricketing bodies can’t allow Afghanistan to compete if women aren’t allowed to play. But the prospect of Afghans being shunted out of a game so many of them love is a depressing one.

That seems true to me of how the outside world is now going to behave towards Afghanistan, in cricket and in big matters like food supply and economic aid. A number of people, many of whom I respect, are applauding the good sense aof Biden’s rapid pull-out from Afghanistan. This will benefit the Afghan people, they argue, and anyone arguing otherwise is just clinging to a desire for an imperialist campaign. Applaud Biden’s decision as a hard-nosed piece of realism, by all means. But the withdrawal has been followed by a refusal to contemplate the massive problems that Afghanistan faces. That will have consequences for the Afghan people: almost certainly very adverse ones.

Under the previous period of Taliban rule, and during the civil war that preceded it, the country slipped largely away from using cash. This has big consequences for people. An economy where exchange is based on a mixture of a devaluing domestic currency, various foreign currencies and barter becomes poorer. In particular, farmers see less and less point in selling food to the cities, because doing so will bring them less and less that is worth anything.

From 2002 to August this year, for example, there was a cash economy that was in large part underpinned by the assets held by Afghanistan’s central bank.* Now the Biden administration and other Western governments are blocking the Afghan regime’s access to those assets until they meet certain conditions on human rights.

But the Taliban almost certainly won’t meet those conditions, because they couldn’t give a fuck. So what will happen? The local currency, the afghani, will lose more and more of its value, while the limited stock of physical US dollars will gain more and more. Banks will find it harder to function, and will start to collapse. People will find cash transactions ever more difficult, and will start to use barter as a means of exchange. Farmers will supply less food to the cities, because their inhabitants can give them very little that is worthwhile. Some city-dwellers will drift back to the country and others will be living from hand to mouth.

At some point, the number of hungry Afghans will reach crisis point. And then, after a greater or lesser delay, foreign governments and agencies will organise a big food supply programme and fly lots of grain and rice in. This programme will save most of the hungry from starving to death. In the absence of effective remedial actions- and they almost certainly will be absent- the programme will also further reduce Afghanistan’s internal food market. Many city-dwellers will become largely dependent on humanitarian handouts and peasants will feed themselves and their near neighbours. The country’s economy will shrink, more or less rapidly.

That seems to me the likeliest outcome. The people cheering Biden’s decision because it saved the Afghan people from the misery of drone strikes, ended a bloody war, etc, are talking nonsense. This decision had nothing to do with concern for Afghan lives. It was an American decision taken for American reasons. The most important reason, I suspect, was to better enable the US to confront China without being beholden to the (corrupt, unpleasant, China-allied) Pakistani establishment.

I can see why a US president would want to get the hell out of Afghanistan, but the way they are behaving now is contemptible. ‘No, we won’t give them access to assets, because we care so much about human rights’. You don’t: you care about being seen to care about human rights. The Americans washed their hands of Afghanistan after the Soviet withdrawal with no regard for the chaos they had helped cause and were leaving behind. They are doing the same thing now.

*The last pre-Taliban central bank governor carried out a number of extremely questionable policies. He is now being uncritically feted by many journalists for major US and British publications after he wrote a breathless Twitter feed about fleeing Kabul. That tells you quite a lot of what you need to know about the ignorance of Afghanistan among the people who make policy in Western countries.


MFB 09.22.21 at 10:50 am

As a South African I’m inclined to agree with the original post.

The sports ban against South Africa was certainly one of the few ways in which anyone outside South Africa showed any sign that they gave a stuff about the crimes of apartheid. However, the sports ban had zero effect on conditions in South Africa. The more we weren’t allowed to play cricket and (more importantly) rugby against foreigners, the deeper the SADF plunged into Angola, the more detainees plummetted from windows, the more children’s blood flowed in the gutters. The liberation of South Africa happened largely because of domestic civil resistance, and partly because of commercial arrangements, but definitely not because we found ourselves organising sports fixtures against ourselves — after all, those fixtures meant that South Africans won every match.

The most interesting thing about all this is that various people started campaigning for sports boycotts as a serious attempt to embarrass the apartheid government as early as the 1960s, but the actual boycotts only really became effective in the early 1980s, around the time when the West handed over the matter of supporting the apartheid military to the Israelis and the CIA in order to avoid embarrassment. In other words, it took a hell of a long time, and for a while it was ineffective, and it was bottom-up-driven. The campaign against Afghanistan seems to have happened courtesy of a whistle from Washington, and that isn’t going to play well in Kabul. It also isn’t going to impress many people outside Europe and North America. I doubt Pakistan’s going to boycott Afghan cricket.


John Quiggin 09.22.21 at 11:35 am

@Engels That’s an odd list. Rounders is a game for children – are you thinking of softball? Netball (mostly women, but there are mixed teams) is alive and well, claimed to be the biggest participation sport in Australia, though (like my own preferred sport, triathlon) it’s not great for spectators. Field hockey has always been played by both men and women, probably more by men. (Ice hockey, North American is hyper-male).


Harry 09.22.21 at 1:38 pm

“Why would I ever have heard of these people?”

When I say things like that on here I am being flippant. Most of the people who surround me couldn’t name any of the Edriches, let alone all 5, and haven’t even heard of some of the counties they played for, let alone being able to match each Edrich to the correct county. I live with that fact every day.


novakant 09.22.21 at 2:05 pm

I’m not into cricket at all, but I enjoyed this documentary about cricket in Afghanistan:

(for people in the US: you can also find it on youtube)


oldster 09.22.21 at 3:10 pm

“(Ice hockey, North American is hyper-male).”

Less by the year. Many US colleges and universities have full squads of women’s ice-hockey teams, and play NCAA games.

We’re probably a few decades from professional leagues for women, but we’re definitely building the pool of talented and trained women’s ice-hockey players.

Whether this is a net contribution to the sum of human welfare will depend on your views about sports, hockey, the importance of having incisors, etc.. Still, the trend is moving away from your “hyper-male” characterization, as true as that has traditionally been.


Bartholomew 09.22.21 at 8:24 pm

This is a little off-topic, but there is one country where cricket is predominantly a women’s sport. This is New Caledonia. Although it’s a French territory, it was originally evangelised by English missionaries who brought the sport with them.Because of this origin, they wear ankle-length 19th-century missionary-style dresses when they play. The other striking feature of this is that it is the Canaque women, the Melanesian original inhabitants, who play it, and not the white settlers, who are all of French origin anyway (and mostly Catholic, whereas the Canaques are Protestant, because of the same evangelisation)

You can get a sense of it from this video:


Not Trampis 09.22.21 at 10:36 pm

Think of the problem in reverse. Allow the Afghani team to play and put immense pressure on the taliban to have a female team.

Cricket and sport in general is quite popular there.

I don’t think anyone here has believed the taliban will react positively to the banning of the test team.


J-D 09.23.21 at 12:47 am

When I say things like that on here I am being flippant.

Aha! So when I was amused by it, that was the correct and desired response, and all is well.


John Quiggin 09.23.21 at 9:26 am

Oldster @16 A Good Thing, I suppose, though it will make no difference to me. I’ve only been to one ice hockey game, and I couldn’t follow it at all, perhaps because I was too short-sighted to keep track of the puck. I was an exceptionally bad player of field hockey at one time, though my brothers were both quite good.


sab 09.23.21 at 10:05 am

As an old woman who grew up when women were closed out of most competitive sports I have absolutely no sympathy for men closed out when their country refuses to field a women’s team. Welcome to our world all you men.


Trader Joe 09.23.21 at 11:40 am

Building on Olderster @16

The US title IX requirements for college athletics have been really powerful for Women’s sport to the extent particular universities have embraced the actual spirit of the rule (creating equality of oppty and funding) rather than focus on shifting around deck chairs to make unequal things look equal.

Basketball and Soccer (football in the rest of the world) are thriving and beginning to draw TV and other contracts that bring yet more revenue and attention to the sports. Hockey has accelerated from practically nothing 20 years ago to a solid following in the NorthEast and MidWest. Lacrosse, field hockey, softball and many others are also gaining scholarships which creates opportunity (no professional leagues so simply getting money for school is a positive endpoint).

Amazingly even American Football has begun to include Women athletes and there are some club teams leagues for the that game as well.

There’s still much room to go for full equality, but who would have thought that throwing money and attention at a problem would produce change?


J-D 09.23.21 at 12:35 pm

As a curiosity, the name ‘Denis Compton’ (but not ‘Nick Compton’) was familiar to me, but now I am going to wait twenty-four hours to find out whether anybody can guess why I would have known the name of Denis Compton but literally absolutely nothing else about him.

The following line of dialogue appears in ‘The Builders’, an episode of the late 1970s UK sitcom Fawlty Towers:
‘Well whose fault is it, you cloth-eared bint?! Denis Compton’s?!’

The name has stuck in my memory solely from that bellowed line, even though I had no idea who Denis Compton was.

Now that I do know, what I wonder is why the writers chose that particular name to go into that particular line, where all it signifies is a person that comes to the mind of the character speaking (Basil Fawlty) as somebody who has not even the remotest of connections with the situation.


Harry 09.23.21 at 1:19 pm

“As an old woman who grew up when women were closed out of most competitive sports I have absolutely no sympathy for men closed out when their country refuses to field a women’s team. Welcome to our world all you men”

Obviously. But that’s not at all what is at issue here. The questions are about the long term future of civil society, and how to get women back into cricket as soon as possible. The women who have been quoted, all of them in exile, have (I think) unanimously expressed the fear that women’s cricket will die if men’s cricket is boycotted. That may or may not be true, but its plausible.

The only good alternative response I can think of is to allow the men to play but ensure that every match they play is umpired by women. (This would require fast tracking women into the elite panels, which is long overdue anyway). But that seems a pretty weak response. And anyway, the rule is a good one.

Shortly after I posted this the Taliban fired the head of the Afghanistan cricket board (presumably because he insisted that Afghanistan would continue to field a women’s team). So. It looks pretty unpromising.

J-D: Cleese, who wrote that line, is an obsessive cricket fan, and Compton’s heyday (well, specifically 1947) was around the time he fell in love with the game. Compton was the first modern athlete in the UK, famous not just as one of the greatest batsmen in the world (in his day), but for celebrity endorsements (the Brylcreem Boy). Everyone over the age of 30 watching it at the time would have known who Compton was. I think the name was very carefully chosen — “Bill Edrich”, “Godfrey Evans”, “Stanley Matthews”, “Len Hutton”, “Jim Laker” — none of those would have worked as well. And Cleese’s greatest cricketing heroes wouldn’t have worked at all because no-one but real obsessives had ever heard of them….
Glad you enjoyed the comment!


oldster 09.23.21 at 3:28 pm

“A Good Thing, I suppose, though it will make no difference to me.”
Indeed. One of the good structural features of the world is that the goodness of its contents do not depend on their making a difference to me.
What a poor world it would be if its beauty and richness were trimmed to fit my impoverished appreciations! Such a world would be like an art museum curated for the profoundly color-blind — there would still be beauty of a sketchy, shaded, wire-framed sort, but not the dazzling efflorescence of Titian and Kandinsky.

I know that there are good things hidden to me, joys I’ll never taste. A Dervish’s transports of devotion, a birder’s sighting of a missing species, an ice-hockey fan’s kinesthetic communion with the winning player’s shot.
They make no difference to me. God bless them for their goodness.


engels 09.23.21 at 5:46 pm

@Engels That’s an odd list

Maybe. I was trying to remember what teams sports girls played at school; I’m sure it wasn’t football, rugby or cricket (which boys did).


J-D 09.23.21 at 11:32 pm

Cleese, who wrote that line, is an obsessive cricket fan …

Well, I did not know that, so you have educated me!

Are we then supposed to conclude that Basil Fawlty is also an obsessive cricket fan? I recall a conversation between him and Major Gowen which indicated strongly that the Major was an obsessive cricket fan, but it wasn’t equally clear that Basil was. (Checking on this, I find, to my further education, that Ballard Berkeley–who played the Major–shared John Cleese’s obsession with cricket and used to make signals to him on the set to update him on the score.)


J-D 09.24.21 at 3:30 am

Incidentally, if anybody cares, both the Fawlty Towers scenes I mentioned can be found on Youtube:
(The first is the scene from ‘The Builders’ in which Basil invokes the name of Denis Compton with great vehemence, and the second is the scene from ‘The Germans’ in which the Major rambles on to Basil about cricket, among other things.)


J-D 09.24.21 at 3:31 am

I have no idea what determined that the first of those links should embed and the second not: it was not anything I did intentionally.


David J. Littleboy 09.24.21 at 8:35 am

“The women who have been quoted, all of them in exile,”

I suppose this is an off-topic rant, but I just saw a link to a (paywalled) NYT article about life in the countryside after the collapse of the US-supported-horrifically-corrupt Afghan government. The first line was a comment from a local to the effect of “We aren’t getting anywhere near as many bullet holes in our walls nowadays…” Folks who pay NYT’s fees can report whether or not it continues in that vein; I suspect it does.

Throughout the Afghan war, rural Afghanistan was largely off-limits to foreign reporters, but Afghanistan is a largely rural country: Kabul is about 10% of Afghanistan’s 40 million people, and no other city holds even 1%. But those are the only people we know. And the people who have left are people who were supported by the flow of corrupt and corrupting funds from the US. They’re not amused at being off the US-funded gravy train. (Iraq was run by and for the Iraqi Sunni (20% of the population) who had horrifically oppressed the Shia majority (60% ditto): but the insanely stupid western press keeps interviewing kicked-off-the-Saddam-gravy-train Iraqi Sunni who keep telling them that things were better before the war.) Taking one’s sources at face value is problematic wherever you do it, and especially when you don’t understand where said sources are coming from. (My pet theory is that the “bad intelligence” that Bush et. al. believed was Shia Iraqi exiles feeding them what they wanted to be told.)

I suppose I should be more sympathetic to the folks who we supported with insane amounts of corrupting cash over the last 20 years; they really didn’t have a choice about playing the game, and now the game’s over, they’re in serious trouble. But over 80% of the population’s rural, and they got caught in the crossfire every time we decided to do something. (Wiki reports around 2300 civilian Afghan casualties per year on average over 20 years; 47,425 total (and a lot more Afghan army and Taliban casualties). (Having watched the Vietnam War go by, I’d guess a lot of those Taliban casualties were folks who didn’t know they were in the Taliban prior to be killed.)

Anyway, wiki reports that the “official” death count for the war is 174,000. That’s a lot of human life wasted. But we’re arguing about cricket. Oops. I’m off topic. Sorry.


Tim Worstall 09.24.21 at 8:44 am

Slightly off topic:

“Field hockey has always been played by both men and women, probably more by men.”

Absolutely the most vicious game I’ve ever played was mixed field hockey. Worse even than rugby against US college students (extremely fit, used to A. Football and with zero of the finesse required to play a contact game without padding or helmets) or club rugby in Russia.

” Compton was the first modern athlete in the UK, famous not just as one of the greatest batsmen in the world (in his day),”

Indeed so and not just that. Also first team for Arsenal in the winters. Won the League and the FA Cup with them. Can’t be done these days with the overlap of seasons. Last person (that I know of, which leaves great room for correction) was Ian Botham with Scunthorpe (umm, 3rd Division then?).

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