Afghan fan
Gulpari Safi and her son Khyber Safi rooting for Afghanistan in the DP World Asia Cup Group B game against Bangladesh at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium on August 30, 2022. She came to the stadium after a chemotherapy session. Image Credit: Shyam A. Krishna/Gulf News

Gulpari Safi is 75 and wheelchair-bound. She is passionate about cricket. More precisely, cricket in Afghanistan. Age hasn’t withered her interest in the game. Nor did cancer.

Even the fatigue wrought by chemotherapy couldn’t stop her from coming to the Sharjah Cricket Stadium on Tuesday (August 30) to cheer the Afghan side to victory over Bangladesh in the DP World Asia Cup.

Waving the Afghan flag, Gulpari sat in the VIP box with her son, watching spinners Mujib ur Rahman and Rashid Khan run circles around the Bangladesh batsmen. Happiness was writ large on Safi’s wrinkled face as Najibullah Zadran and Ibrahim Zadran powered the Afghans to victory.

From chemotherapy to cricket

It was a hugely satisfying day for Gulpari. A day that started with a cocktail of medicines coursing through her veins, leaving her tired. She should have been home for some badly needed rest after chemotherapy, but opted to spend the evening supporting the Afghan team.

Gulpari Safi and her son Khyber live in Ajman. She has been battling cancer for over six years. That’s a long and weary fight, and it needs a strong will to keep fighting a disease that ravages the body. Tuesday was the chemotherapy appointment at the Dubai Hospital. Cricket was the last thing on her mind.

Driving home from the hospital, Khyber reminded his mother that Afghanistan are playing Bangladesh in Sharjah. “Come, let’s go there,” she said, and Khyber turned the car around and drove to the Sharjah stadium. But he didn’t have tickets. And Khyber needed VIP seats since he wanted his mother to watch the game comfortably.

At the stadium, Khyber was told to buy tickets online. After some futile attempts to buy them online, Khyber returned to Gate 1 and was directed to the Ticket Box at Gate 4, which sold tickets for the stands.

“Even tickets to the stands are fine so long as my mother can watch the match,” Khyber said to himself. Wïth tickets in hand, he steered his mother’s wheelchair through the sandy patch. Several people helped take his mother to one of the stands, where vociferous Afghan fans egged their players on.

Khyber now faced another problem. It was hot and his mother was sweating profusely. “Are you okay,” he asked. “It’s hot and sweaty, but I am okay. I can watch the match,” Gulpari replied.

The stadium staff noticed the quiet elderly lady in a wheelchair, watching the match in the midst of a dancing, cheering crowd. There must have been at least 20,000 spectators. One of the stadium staff, Khalid, approached Khyber to enquire after his mother. Once he learnt of her hospital trip, it was communicated to Khalaf Bukhatir, chief executive of the Sharjah Cricket Stadium, who made arrangements to move Gulpari to the VIP box.

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Sweat no longer enveloped her; instead tears rolled down her cheeks as the Afghan national anthem rent the air in the stadium. “Even Mohammad Nabi had tears in his eyes,” she said excitedly, pointing to the television screens.

Nabi is her favourite, but Gulpari hastened to add that she loves all the Afghan players. “Mohammad Nabi is a very good player and a humble person,” she said in Pashto and Khyber translated.

Gulpari Safi went home happy. Happy that she could watch the Afghans win, a win that propelled them into the Super 4 phase of the tournament.