Why this Af-Pak battle has all of Sharjah on the edge

FP

Cricket has some famous rivalries, but in terms of both history and geography, it doesn't get better than this. On February 10, Afghanistan take on Pakistan at Sharjah. It's their first ODI against a Test-playing nation, and will be held at a stadium used to seeing subcontinental tension play out on the field.

Sharjah Cricket Council secretary Mazhar Khan believes the February date will be a red-letter day for war-ravaged Afghanistan and will bring Sharjah a venue where India-Pakistan cricket duels reached fever pitch in the '80s and '90s back in the spotlight. "We are sure that there will be a full house on February 10," he says.

Afghanistan's captain Hamid Hassan and vice-captain Mohammad Nabi are confident of giving their opponents a run for the money on what they call their "home" ground. Afghanistan have played two 50-over games previously in Sharjah, both against Canada, winning the first game before going down narrowly in the second.

The only time the two neighbours, divided by the contentious Durand Line, have faced each other before in a cricket match at the world stage was during the Asian Games in Guangzhou in November last year. The Afghans had beaten a second-string Pakistani outfit then before ending up with a silver medal.

Incidentally, with no cricket team of their own, thousands of Afghans who live and work in the UAE have been avid supporters of Pakistan in matches played at the Sharjah Cricket Association Stadium. "Shahid Afridi used to be their favourite," chuckles Khan.

Having learnt most of his cricket while residing in Peshawar, fast bowler Hassan, one of the key men for the Afghan team, says the entire country is counting down to the big day. Nabi says they have heard that the match tickets have been sold out for a month.

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