Afghanistan Test cancellation creates opportunity to celebrate women’s cricket

Since there’s no such position as left field in cricket, here’s an idea from, let’s say, backward point.

It’s to do with the imminent cancellation of what would have been the inaugural Australian-Afghanistan Test in Hobart in November and what might take its place.

It has been mooted that Australia might draft in Bangladesh, who they play too infrequently or newcomer Ireland, who they have not played at all yet. You can be certain that the federal government is on the case in terms of streamlining a way into the country for either. It’s amazing what governments can do. See AFL, elsewhere on these pages.

Both would be welcome substitutes. Test cricket needs new frontiers and its expansion to include Ireland and Afghanistan has been a breath of pre-mask quality fresh air. You can only feel for the Afghans and what would have been a significant milestone on their journey.

But is there not a frame missing here? Is there not an opportunity? Let’s track it through on DRS.

When the Hobart Test first loomed as an issue earlier this week, what we knew was that the Taliban was presumed to be hostile to women’s sport and the Tasmanian government was apprehensive and would canvass the thoughts of the local Hazara community. It didn’t quite seem enough to put a peremptory red line through it. Cricket Australia didn’t.

No longer free: the Afghanistan women’s cricket team, at a past training session in Kabul.Credit:Andrew Quilty

The next day, a Taliban spokesman mounted a summary rejection of women’s cricket in an interview on SBS, saying it was anti-Islam, might expose women to attention and even, God help them, cameras. It was chilling.

There was an immediate backlash from the Australian government, then on Thursday from CA and the Australian Cricketers Association. Even the ICC managed to say “golly”. The universal theme was that it was not conscionable to engage in sport against a country that statutorily oppressed women. The ICC constitution expressly forbade it.

So the Test match has to go by the wayside. A suggestion that Afghanistan could play, but not under the Taliban flag can be discarded. Pretending not to play for the country is no solution, and besides, these men have to return home eventually and look the new rulers in the eye. They do not look like the types who would refer dissent to the match referee.

Cancellation is disappointing for the Afghan men, but at least their lives are not threatened, they can still play in their own country and the best can play in other pro leagues around the world. They do now.

Nothing of the kind can be said for the Afghan women. The cancellation of the Hobart Test is only incidentally a sanction against the men’s team. Its whole thrust is to make a point about the plight of the women, some of whom are in hiding and from accounts destroying evidence that they ever played cricket.

But it is a point that would be lost almost as soon as it was made if Australia now papered over the gap with another men’s match.

Australia have a chance here to reinforce the point by staging a celebration of women’s cricket. It’s not as if they’re over-exposed. Since that memorable World Cup final at the MCG 18 months and a seeming lifetime ago, the Australian women’s team have played a total of nine one-dayers and nine T20 internationals, all against New Zealand and South Africa.

The celebration could take several forms. The most obvious would be a re-match of that final. The complication is that India are about to embark on a mixed series of Test, one-day and T20 games against Australia in Queensland, and asking them to stay on for another couple of months might be too much.

The deputy head of the Taliban’s Cultural Commission, Ahmadullah Wasiq, explains in an exclusive interview with @SBSNews why it is not necessary for women in Afghanistan to play sport and in particular cricket.

But there are other ways. It could be another Test match against, say, maybe against a World XI. It could be an all-stars match. The window roughly coincides with the finals of the WBBL, so they could be incorporated. Otherwise, it might mean shuffling a few fixtures around. We’ve become adept at that.

If it means the men are playing Sheffield Shield cricket two weeks out from an Ashes series, that’s no bad thing. Afghanistan would have provided only modest competition anyway. But better still, it could be a joint celebration of men’s and women’s cricket, back-to-back. How better to underscore the notion that cricket is a game for all?

It wouldn’t be regular cricket business, but what is at this time? It might test the resolve of broadcasters: let it.

It won’t impress the Taliban. It wouldn’t be possible anyway to change a mind so archaically made up about women’s sport anyway. It won’t change anything on the ground in Afghanistan. But it would stand as an act of solidarity with the women cricketers of Afghanistan as their best of times becomes their worst of times. It would be, in its best form, cancel culture.

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