Afghanistan's cricket board and a number of top players have blasted Cricket Australia over their extraordinary decision to withdraw from an ODI series against them in March. Cricket Australia announced the decision on Thursday, citing further restrictions placed on women's rights in Afghanistan by the Taliban.
The Aussies were scheduled to play Afghanistan in the United Arab Emirates for three matches in March. But following consultation with the Australian Government and other stakeholders, CA came to the decision to pull out.
The decision has sparked anger in Afghanistan, with the country's cricket board slamming the move as "pathetic". The Afghanistan Cricket Board said it would rethink sending Afghan players to play in the Big Bash League if the decision was not reversed.
Rashid Khan, Afghanistan's most high-profile player and a much-loved star of the Adelaide Strikers, also said he would 'strongly consider' never playing in the BBL again. Rasheed said in a statement: "I am really disappointed to hear that Australia have pulled out of the series to play us in March.
"I take great pride in representing my country, and we have made great progress on the world stage. This decision from CA sets us back in that journey.
"If playing vs Afghanistan is so uncomfortable for Australia, then I wouldn't want to make anyone uncomfortable with my presence in the BBL. Therefore, I will be strongly considering my future in that competition."
Rasheed also sent a tweet to Cricket Australia, the BBL and ACB officials, adding: "Cricket! The only hope for the country. Keep politics out of it."
The ACB said it was "extremely disappointed and saddened by the pathetic statement" from Cricket Australia, adding it would complain to the International Cricket Council. The ACB accused CA of prioritising political interests over fair play and sportsmanship, undermining the integrity of the game, and damaging the relationship between the two countries.
"Cricket has played a significant role in promoting unity and national pride in Afghanistan," the board said. "After years of war and conflict, cricket has helped to bring people together and provide a sense of normalcy to the country. It has also been an important source of hope and inspiration for all Afghans, particularly young people."
Fast bowler Naveen ul Haq Murid called the decision from Australia "childish" and accused CA of taking away Afghans' only reason for happiness. Former Afghanistan captain Gulbadin Naib wrote on Twitter: “I was not expecting a country like Australia to encourage the ICC to harm men’s cricket as well, so it was an irresponsible decision taken by Cricket Australia … don’t use sports like a tool for politicians.”
Former Afghan international Aftab Alam added: "Dear Cricket Australia! Cricket is a sport and it always separate from politics, that's the 2nd time that cancelling the matches with ACB, its unfair that a cricket playing nation like Australia doing injustice like that. Our players are the beauty of your cricket #BBL."
Cricket Australia's reasons for scrapping Afghanistan series
In a statement released on Thursday, CA said the decision followed recent restrictions placed on women's and girls' education and employment opportunities by the Taliaban, as well as their ability to access parks and gyms. CA said: "CA is committed to supporting growing the game for women and men around the world, including in Afghanistan, and will continue to engage with the Afghanistan Cricket Board in anticipation of improved conditions for women and girls in the country. We thank the Australian Government for its support on this matter."
Australia cited similar reasons for cancelling a one-off Test match against Afghanistan that was supposed to be played in November 2021 in Hobart. Last month the Taliban banned women from completing higher education, having already cracked down on their attendance at gyms and parks.
According to the United Nations, women are also banned from attending school beyond the sixth grade and working most jobs outside of their homes. ICC boss Geoff Allardice recently said the developments in Afghanistan were worrying.
"Our board has been monitoring progress since the change of regime," he said. "It is a concern that progress is not being made in Afghanistan and it's something our board will consider at its next meeting in March."
Click here to sign up to our newsletter for all the latest and breaking stories from Australia and around the world.