Australia on Friday postponed its first-ever cricket Test against Afghanistan, after the country’s ruling Taliban regime effectively banned women from playing the sport.
Australia’s cricketing authorities said that after consultation with “relevant stakeholders”, they decided the men’s Test, to be played in Hobart this month, would not go ahead as planned.
After the Taliban ousted Afghanistan’s elected government in August, senior leaders said Afghan women would no longer play cricket or any other sport.
Under the regime’s hardline reading of Islamic law, women are also barred from going to school and from most other public roles.
Senior Australian cricketers had indicated they would like to see the Test cancelled if the de facto ban on women’s cricket remained in place.
But Australia’s white-ball captain Aaron Finch backed Afghanistan cricket to thrive and said the Test would likely be rescheduled soon.
“It would have been a great Test match but I think they still have that in the schedule at some point down the track,” Finch told reporters ahead of his team’s crucial match against West Indies at the Twenty20 World Cup.
“It is really important for world cricket that we have seen, particularly in the shortest formats of the game, how important and how big an impact the Afghan team has had on world cricket.
“So hopefully that can get back up and running as soon as possible.”
But Kabul has been warned it faces an international ban if it fails to field a side at the upcoming women’s World Cup in New Zealand.
In a statement, Cricket Australia said it was “committed to support growing the game for women and men in Afghanistan and around the world”.
“Given the present uncertainty, [Cricket Australia] felt it necessary to postpone the Test match until a later time when the situation is clearer.”
Afghan players are expected to be allowed to play in the upcoming Big Bash League season in Australia.
Cricket Australia said it looked forward to “hosting both the Afghanistan women’s and men’s team in the not too distant future”, but pointedly did not set a new date for the fixtures.
Afghanistan all-rounder and T20I captain Mohammed Nabi said he hoped the two countries could still work together on developing Afghan cricket.
Nabi made headlines by breaking into tears during Afghanistan’s first T20 World Cup match against Scotland, who they promptly thrashed. But he has tried to steer well clear of questions about politics.
“It’s disappointing the Test match isn’t going ahead this year but I’m happy that the match is only postponed and not cancelled,” Nabi said.
Australia’s cricketers are currently gearing up for the Ashes Tests against England, which are set to begin on December 8 in Brisbane.
The loss of the Afghan Test creates a void in Australia’s Ashes build-up, which will be filled by an “internal three-day match opportunity” between the extended squad from Dec 1 in Brisbane.
“The squad will be selected and announced in mid-November,” Cricket Australia said, adding that England would also play a three-day warm-up match against the England Lions.
The first of the Ashes tourists are expected to touch down in Brisbane on Saturday.