At every match of the ongoing T20 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates, there are hoards of people who come dressed in Afghanistan's traditional attire, the national colours painted across their bodies and waving flags. They are not often seen going through wild mood swings or belt out boisterous chants that fans from other Asian countries are known for. They are just there to enjoy a good game of cricket.
The team entered the tournament with things that are more concerning than cricket. The Taliban takeover of the country, safety of their loved ones amid the escalating violence in the country are on the back of their minds. However, the transcending nature of the cricket was in full display with the way the Afghans played in the Super 12s so far.
Despite playing just three T20Is all year in build up to the tournament, Mohammad Nabi's men have been spectacular with the ball and the bat. By amalgamating sixers and spin prowess, they have been able to obliterate Scotland and Namibia. They are the best six-hitting side so far, averaging 7.25 sixes every match and have hit a boundary every 5.8 ball, which is better than England's average of 6 balls per boundary and Pakistan's 6.3.
It's not just a flash in the pan as Afghanistan have been consistently clearing the ropes since 2016 World T20. Their average 14.45 balls per six over the last five years is just below the West Indies' 13.13. Franchise league has contributed heavily to their batters' understanding of the format as the likes of Mohammad Shahzad, Hazratullah Zazai, Rahmanullah Gurbaz and Nabi himself have been important overseas picks for teams.
Leg-spinner Rashid Khan, unsurprisingly, has played in every major league this year and still remains a threat to the batsmen who have faced him countless times in those tournaments. However, the emergence of 21-year old Mujeeb Ur Rahman and medium-pacer Naveen ul Haq are proof of a bright future for Afghan cricket.
They lost against traditional superpowers Pakistan and India, but never compromised on their playing style. Their spinners kept probing, they batsmen kept hitting boundaries even if the game was out of their reach. The loyalty to their playing philosophy is instilled by head coach Lance Klusener, whose reputation as a player was built by being the aggressor at all times. According to Klusener, the togetherness of the squad where every member is considered part of the family, brings out the best in each other.
"When I first met the guys, everyone was like 'Welcome to the family'. We spend a lot of time together and we get on well together and that's what the most important thing for me. There are lot of areas to work on, but there is unbelievable talent in the dressing room," the South African told ACB.
According to Klusener, decision making is the area where his team needs to improve on.
"If we had played more cricket against better oppositions, we could've made smarter decisions. It's young talent, but its the decision making against big teams is what has let us down a little bit."
From playing in refugee camps in the 2000s to being a side teeming with international superstars, Afghanistan cricket has come a long way by overcoming unbelievable odds. What keeps the fire burning? Keeper-batter Shahzad explains it in the most the simplest and profound ways possible.
"Even if we lose or win, I am happy because everywhere its just full of tension. When we come to the ground, we play and enjoy."