Controversy mars Afghanistan domestic tournament
Afghanistan's first 50 over domestic competition got under way in Kabul this week, but it has been marred by controversy after supporters of eliminated team protested and got the rules changed to keep them into the competition.
The tournament format was an unusual one. The 24 participating provinces are divided into four groups of six teams. The six teams play one match against another team, with the losing teams being eliminated and the two winning teams with the best net run-rate then playing each other in a quarter final.
In Group A, already delayed by two days due to rain in Kabul where all the matches are being played on a natural turf wicket, Panjshir beat Helmand by 5 wickets, Khost beat Baghlan by 29 runs and Balkh beat Maidan Wardak by 21 runs. When the NRR calculation was done, Panjshir and Balkh were the top two teams and were scheduled to meet in yesterday's first quarter final.
Afghan website Tolafghan reports that on the morning of the match hundreds of Khost supporters occupied the field protesting at their teams elimination. The website reports that the protest became a riot that lasted for four hours until the rules were changed.
Khost's representative to the Afghanistan Cricket Board said that he wasn't present at the meeting when the rules were agreed, but didn't say why he didn't object until his team was eliminated. Tolafghan claims that pressure from government ministers, tribal leaders and other parliamentarians led to the rule change, with ACB sources worried that the riot would escalate.
The rules were changed so that the winning team with the best NRR will automatically reach the quarter final, with the other two winning teams playing-off for the right to play them. That is arguably a more sensible format, but it is very worrying that a riot led to the rule change, especially in the light of the incident in Kathmandu earlier this year.
Tolafghan described the ACB as the loser of the day for caving into the pressure put on it by the rioters and the politicians. It sets a worrying precedent for the future.
In the match itself, reduced to 25 overs due to the riot, Khost beat Balkh by 11 runs and will play Panjshir in the quarter final today. Bad behaviour from the Khost spectators continued throughout the match, as a number came onto the ground after big shots from their team or when Balkh wickets fell. They also flooded the ground after the match was over.
Some will no doubt say that justice was done in the quarter final match itself, when Panjshir thumped Khost by 141 runs to qualify for the semi-finals. Khost were bowled out for just 30 in their innings, Del Agha picking up the man of the match award for his six wickets.