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Captivated Afghans Watch Cricket Team's World Cup Debut

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We have a story involving a rare moment of national joy for Afghanistan. It involves cricket. You have no idea how huge cricket is in that part of the world. Afghanistan's cricket team was playing the biggest game in its history. NPR's Philip Reeves joined some fans in the capital, Kabul.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Aziz Ullah usually spends his days selling cars. But he's taking time out in a cafe with his friends watching his nation's cricket team.

(SOUNDBITE OF CRICKET WORLD CUP)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: There's the call. It's a good call...

REEVES: This is Afghanistan's first ever game in cricket's leading tournament, the World Cup. They're playing Bangladesh in Australia. Aziz Ullah is enthralled.

AZIZ ULLAH: (Through interpreter) I left my job today to watch the cricket game today.

REEVES: Tea is served. The game's going badly. The cafe fills with anxious cigarette smoke.

(SOUNDBITE OF CRICKET WORLD CUP)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: A bit of a (unintelligible) struggle for Afghanistan in this...

REEVES: The Afghan team begins to fight back.

(APPLAUSE)

REEVES: The rise of Afghanistan's cricket team on the world stage is remarkable. The sport only took root here a few decades ago and only took off after the fall of the Taliban in 2001. Many players learned their skills next-door in cricket-mad Pakistan as refugees from war. Cricket in Afghanistan is seen as a way of forging national unity in an ethnically divided the land. Vegetable seller Zabih Ullah is sitting, legs crossed, on a rug, gazing up at the TV, trying to figure out what is going on.

Do you know what a googly is?

ZABIH ULLAH: No.

REEVES: Cricket is a deeply eccentric game with its own language. Abdul Waseh Jabbari, a taxi driver knows just enough of the rules to enjoy watching the game.

ABDUL WASEH JABBARI: (Through interpreter) I understand the scores but don't know the specifics of the game. I know who is the winner and who is the loser.

REEVES: That's more than can be said of the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan. Afghanistan ended up being the loser, yet way before the game was over, the embassy sent out a tweet congratulating Afghanistan on its victory. The correction that followed was too late to stop the world's cyber-having fun, cracking jokes about Americans once again prematurely declaring victory in a war zone. Philip Reeves, NPR News, Kabul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.