In an unlikely sequence of events, an Afghan cricketer became a celebrated hero deep in the heart of Texas.
The sea of flags in the stands is one of the blooming traditions that has fast become a feature of the first season of Major League Cricket in Texas, as it is in the IPL.
The sea of flags in the stands is one of the blooming traditions that has fast become a feature of the first season of Major League Cricket in Texas, as it is in the IPL. Almost all of the franchises involved in each night’s event made sure to have stacks of flags ready to hand out to supporters as they entered Grand Prairie Stadium through the gates.
Hundreds of neon-green Seattle Orcas flags were waving in the grandstand for Sunday night’s final. Thousands of blue MI, New York, flags engulfed them. Because it was a sporting event in the United States, a few supporters brought in an American flag to twirl around, and another American flag came into the stadium before the game began, courtesy of a parachute jump team.
The flags that stuck out the most at Grand Prairie Stadium, though, were Afghanistan’s striking tri-color black, red, and green. There seemed to be at least one, if not two, Afghanistan tricolor banners strutting around and being hoisted in tandem in every part of the stadium.
When the US troops entered Afghanistan two decades ago, the country’s national cricket team did not exist. A men’s team from the Afghanistan Cricket Board did not compete in an Asian Cricket Council competition, let alone an ICC one, until June 2004. On that day, Nawroz Mangal started the batting with a century, while Mohammad Nabi, a 19-year-old spinner, led the bowling attack, taking 3 for 28 in a four-wicket loss to Oman at an empty Royal Selangor Club in Kuala Lumpur. Rashid Khan was only five years old at the time.
Fast forward 19 years to a scene in Grand Prairie, Texas, that would have seemed far more absurd than the one in “Back to the Future Part II,” as Marty McFly steps out of Doc Brown’s DeLorean time machine and walks into Hill Valley in October 2015. Marty McFly, played by Michael J. Fox, glances up at a flashing neon news ticker to read an update that the Chicago Cubs have just beaten a team from Miami—a baseball organization that didn’t exist in 1985—to win their first World Series since 1908.
Even Robert Zemeckis’ great mind would have struggled to construct a Hollywood narrative in which a youngster from war-torn Afghanistan in 2004 becomes one of the biggest stars in world cricket and is feted by the crowds in the Lone Star State in the summer of 2023. Texas has a cricket legacy that is as young as Afghanistan’s was in 2004, when most Texans’ and most other Americans’ sole concerns regarding Afghanistan were focused on finding Osama bin Laden.
But when Rashid arrived in Texas for his first match for New York on the night of July 17, fresh from a business class seat on a trip from Bangladesh, where he had just finished captaining the Afghanistan T20I side, the crowd in Grand Prairie Stadium went insane. It was complete chaos in the front row of Section 101 on the venue’s southwest grandstand, near where Rashid was fielding on the boundary at wide long-off. The situation became so tense due to a swarm of fans cramming the front five rows in quest of selfies and autographs during the opening innings while New York was fielding that extra security guards were reassigned to the area to disperse the masses of people who did not have tickets in the section.
. It was no surprise, then, that when stadium public address announcer Aaman Patel shouted the starting lineups for the final on Sunday night over the loudspeakers—who himself is another too-good-to-be-true character, a North Carolina native who was one year old when Afghanistan played their first match in 2004—Rashid received the most raucous ovation. Even on a night when New York stand-in skipper Nicholas Pooran struck one of the most amazing hundreds in a T20 franchise league final anywhere in the world, Rashid remained the pied piper for fans all throughout the stadium.
Despite the fact that the game had been reported as a sellout for weeks, there was some modest curiosity as to what the atmosphere would be like without the Texas Super Kings in the final. Despite the fact that Grand Prairie Stadium’s 7200-capacity crowds had been consistently healthy throughout the tournament, only matches involving the hometown Super Kings had been sellouts prior to the final. However, the long traffic lines snaking around the adjacent Lone Star Racetrack parking lot 90 minutes before play from the South Belt Line Road Exit to the stadium entrance at Lone Star Parkway dispelled any doubts that the inaugural MLC final would be anything less than a grand occasion.
As impressive as Pooran’s unbroken 137 not out off 55 balls, studded with 13 sixes and a hundred after only 40 balls, were the yells, chants, and pleas for Rashid before, during, and after his amazing spell of 3 for 9 (seriously?! A 2.25 economy rate and 19 dot balls on a night when every other bowler went for more than a run per ball were unrelenting from start to finish, even when Pooran jammed a yorker through fine leg for the winning runs. During the win celebrations on the field, there were several cries from supporters in the grandstand for an autograph or a photo with “Nicky!” and “Polly!” “David!” and “Trent!”
But, aside from New York’s billionaire owner Nita Ambani, who appeared on the sidelines to take pictures with her team’s ecstatic fans, the only other person requiring a robust security presence to keep over-eager fans from losing control in their zesty fervor to get close to their hero was “Rashid! Rashid!” Rashid was dragged away by New York team officials after spending a significant amount of time taking photographs and signing autographs with fans. They were waiting for him to return to the team bus before continuing with further win celebrations back at the team hotel.
Over the last three weeks, there have been a series of far-fetched illusions that most people would never have imagined attainable a generation ago. A sold-out cricket stadium in Texas, let alone anywhere else in the United States, would have seemed more amazing than turning water into wine. A globetrotting, multi-millionaire, best-T20-bowler-in-the-world legspinner from Afghanistan being showered with pure, unadulterated adoration by American sports fans on American territory, on the other hand, would have been far too good to be true. Seeing was believing during Sunday night’s Major League Cricket final in Grand Prairie, Texas.
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