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Shpageeza Cricket League begins amid fears of covid-19 spike

Mujeeb R. Awrang

KABUL: Afghanistan kicked off its famous cricket league “Shpageeza” amid fears of second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic with a fractured health care system.

The inauguration ceremony of the league took place on Saturday evening in international cricket stadium of Champion Amanullah Khan in downtown Kabul, with the participation of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and his right hand, Amrullah Saleh, and as well as other government officials, players and fans.

The inauguration ceremony included national music, national dancing “Attan”, fire cracking and also noises by the fans.

“You are our true heroes who have flown our flag high globally and proudly, and presented the true image of Afghanistan to the world,” Ghani told the players during his speech in the ceremony. “You are the stars who have given every Afghan a sense of pride and succeeded to put your mark among the top ten cricketing nations in the world.”

First Vice President, Saleh said that he might not understand the language of cricket so well but understand that it has brought joy to Afghans. Saleh wrote on his twitter that he attended the ceremony because he knew that Afghans love cricket. “It was such an immense sense of joy to be among our Cricket heroes and their fans,” he added.

Chairman of the Afghanistan Cricket Board, Farhan Yusefzai said in a message to the fans that the board decided to launch the league to give a joyful amusement for the people as the country is stuck in coronavirus crisis. “Our people were struggling with mental problems due to the pandemic so we want to give them an amusement,” he said. “Second, we have a lot of new talents in this year’s league.”

To avoid the spread of the virus, the ministry of public health allowed the board to host only 30 percent of the crowds inside the ground with observation of the medical recommendation and precautionary measures.

Yusefzai called on the Afghans to support the league through social media and TVs and be supportive to their players.

But cricket fans seem happy with start of the league, saying that cricket is currently the only entertainment for the people. “We want this league to be played every year,” said Mumtaz Rahman, a cricket fan. “All we have is cricket and some other sports team to entertain us; otherwise, it is all war everywhere.”

All of the matches will be played in Kabul stadium. The first match was set for today (Sunday) between Band-E-Amir Dragons and Mis -E- Ainak Knights. Shpageeza includes six teams; Kabul Eagles, Mis-e Ainak Knights, Bost Defenders, Amo Sharks, Speenghar Tigers and Band-e Amir Dragons.

ACB launched the league at a time, while six of its professional and well-known players are currently out of Afghanistan for playing Caribbean Premier League of West Indies. It has been understood that three famous players, Mohammad Nabi, Rashid Khan and Mujeeb Rahman Zadran would fly directly from West Indies to Indian Premier League which will be played in UAE. Some reports said that ACB faced logistic shortage to transfer its players from West Indies to Kabul on charter plane as most of the countries closed their borders with Caribbean. According to reports, players in the IPL would be quarantined for six days.

But health officials are worried about further spread of the virus during the “Shpageeza” league because it is said to be merely possible to have the people observe social distancing and other precautionary measures in the ground. Also, the ACB has not spoken of anything about players’ quarantine to prevent the infectious of the pandemic among the players.

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