Every morning, scores of young girls - wrapped from head to toe - learn cricketing skills in a country ravaged by decades of internecine violence.
They face threats and are often preached against playing the game by local mullahs. But the girls are determined to learn the game and make a name for themselves.
“Yes, they can,” argues Sarah Fane, a British woman and chairperson of Afghan Connection, a non government organisation that works closely with the girls.
It is a tough call for her but Fane is confident her efforts will bear fruit. After all, the Afghanistan male team played in this last T20 World Cup, right? So why not the girls?
But it is not that easy to get girls out to play in Afghanistan. “We have to be very careful while organising camps for these girls. We mostly play behind the walls. As most of the girls are fearful and don’t want people to know they are playing cricket.”
Her charity organises camps for females only in cities. She stresses on the need of being very sensitive on the issue. “We try to avoid clashes. If we hold a camp in a new area there can be a potential backlash. We are doing it one step at a time.”
The cricket camps for are held in 4 out of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, mainly due to security concerns. “If we push too hard all will be lost for girls, so we just do camps in cities, with parental consent, inside walls and with girls appropriately dressed,” Says Fane, who also worked as a doctor in Afghanistan during the Soviet war.
Diana Barakzai, 24, captain of the Afghan women’s team, actively participates in the game along with her sisters. She once fled to neighbouring Pakistan with her family in 1999 to escape the Taliban.
It was in a refugee camp in Pakistan Barakazi learnt some of the basics and resumed practice once the family returned back to Kabul in 2009.
Since returning to Kabul, Barakzai has encouraged other girls to take up the sport. “I’m very passionate about cricket and what I do. I hope we get to play some international matches.”
She knows it is still not easy. A women’s team set up earlier this year for the ACC Women’s T20 in Kuwait had to withdraw after the Afghanistan Cricket Board cited hostile social elements as the reason.
Barakzai is still positive. Currently, there are more than 4,000 female players registered to play the game. And more are coming every day. Change is in the air.