Voice of Afghan cricket lights up World Twenty20
by:Muhammad Ibrahim Momand
A slightly built young man wearing jeans and a blue polo shirt stepped forward into the commentary box with an eager smile and extended a hand to shake.
Twenty-six years ago, Mohammed Ibrahim was born in the Nasir Bagh refugee camp on the edge of Peshawar.
His eyes lit up as we began to chat and he explained how, after his family had moved out of Nasir Bagh in 2000, he got involved with the radio station Salam Watandar, which translates to "Hello Countrymen", picked up by 38 independently owned community radio stations around the country, making Ibrahim almost as well known as the cricketers themselves as Afghans huddle around radios straining their ears to pick up news of their new-found heroes.
"My father got a job with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and so we moved from Peshawar to Kabul in 2003," he told me.
"My father has two wives, I have nine sisters and four brothers. After two years I got a job with Shamshad TV in Kabul. I was working as a translator, translating documentaries into Pashto - I speak Urdu, English, Arabic and Persian."
"I first read about the Afghan cricket team in the newspapers, and, from 2005 to 2009, I was reporting on them for Shamshad. Then suddenly I got a phone call from my current radio manager asking if I wanted to work for them."
Mohammed Ibrahim (right) with the Internews team during Afghanistan's match against South Africa
The organisation Ibrahim is referring to is Internews, an international media development organisation, which aims to empower people by sharing and making information accessible through journalism.
Programmes, including Ibrahim's cricket commentaries, are produced on a daily basis and are picked up by the various stations and broadcast around the nation.
"I received a call from my friend after the India game telling me how many people have been listening back home," he laughed. "I can't believe how my ugly voice gets on radio!"
Like many of the Afghanistan team, Ibrahim's knowledge and love of the game comes from playing in the dust of the refugee camp and following the fortunes of Pakistan as he was growing up.
"My first live television game was in 1999," he enthused. "A friend of my uncle had a TV and we travelled to his house to watch Pakistan against Australia in the World Cup. We could only watch the first innings as we had a long way to go home.
"We were certain Pakistan would win (they posted 275-8 in the group game), and only heard the result once we got home. That was my first live cricket on television.
"When we got older we all wanted to be Shahid Afridi. We loved his batting style. We wanted to be Afridi but we had no opportunities and no facilities for us to play cricket."
Instead, once he moved to Kabul, Ibrahim would watch the students playing at the Medical College near where he lived and sometimes fetched balls for them. That is, when he wasn't working, studying or spending time praying.
American Keith Roznowski is the programme manager for Internews in Afghanistan and joined Salam Watandar's four-man team in the Caribbean, along with Ibrahim, technical manager Khalil Sadat and Momtaz Shah, another producer who also commentates in Dari.
"The illiteracy rate is so high in Afghanistan, which is why radio is so important. Most people have access to it, while TVs are only in the major cities."
Ibrahim tries to watch television when he gets the chance and absorbs cricket and commentary like a sponge.
"Every day I learn something from senior commentators. I listen, then I translate it into Pashto in my head to make my commentary come alive. I love Tony Greig, Michael Holding, Ravi Shastri and Ramiz Raja."
Until he began travelling with the Afghan team, Ibrahim had never been beyond the borders of Afghanistan or Pakistan. When I asked him what strikes him most about Barbados, his response reflected his own humility and human warmness.
"It's the hospitality. It's not new for me to be sitting here watching cricket. What's new for me is sitting here in the West Indies with their hospitality and their behaviour. They're so friendly. It's like a dream that I'm in St Lucia and Barbados."
Unfortunately the dream of the Afghanistan team ended with a hefty defeat to South Africa, which knocked them out of the World Twenty20. They may be heading home for now, but they are determined to come back and make a mark on the full international scene.
When they do, Ibrahim will no doubt be there with them too.