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We find evidence of the indomitable human spirit in the most unlikely places, and few places seem more foreign to American experience than Afghanistan.

So long as Osama bin Laden was at large, we took a lively interest in reports from the Hindu Kush, but lately Afghanistan has slipped somewhat from our attention. It makes eminent sense that we'd rather forget the deadly shambles of our sudden abandonment of Kabul, probably the lowest point to date of the Joe Biden administration.

But that was more than two years ago, and the event that could restore our faith in humanity has nothing to do with military matters. It comes from the world of sport and is one that a large majority of Americans have probably never heard of.

The one sport with an international following that has left Americans cold for the most part is cricket, which has center stage for everyone else right now because its , being played this time round in India, is underway.

In the current round, Afghanistan was drawn against England, and you don't have to be an expert in alien sports to figure out who the smart money was on for that one. England, home of cricket and the current world champion, has a cricket ground in every corner of its green and pleasant island. Cricket is played at all of its schools, and cricket clubs flourish in every region. British troops did play cricket in Afghanistan in the mid-19th century, but it was only about 30 years ago that Afghan refugees, having taken up the game in Pakistan, brought it home.

England, meanwhile, played serenely on. No foreign invader has set foot there in well over 1,000 years.

Afghanistan, to put it mildly, has not been so lucky. In recent memory, it has been exposed to the brutalities of the Taliban and Al Qaeda, while both the Soviets and the Americans have marched through its landlocked and famously hostile terrain. Thousands have just perished in earthquakes there. It is little short of miraculous that anyone there has time to think about sports, let alone beat the world's best at their own game.

It is, perhaps, dangerous to read too much into one match result, and the possibility of aberration can never be dismissed, but this Afghan team certainly looked the part and prevailed on merit. This was one of sport's great upsets, and a reminder of the glorious uncertainty that is crucial to its appeal.

But what good is sport? It is said to be a substitute for war, and most of us would regard it as the preferable option, with maybe a few soccer hooligans in dissent. But that is one of those comforting maxims that don't hold up under inspection. Bellicose nations are no less keen on sporting glory than their irenic neighbors, as Hitler himself most memorably demonstrated at the 1936 Olympics.

No doubt there was a time when skills developed on the athletics field were also useful on the battlefield, and vice versa. But in the modern army, since there are no javelins to throw, it may not matter how coordinated you are.

Of course, it is a different story on the cricket field, and that is where the eyes of the sporting world are right now.

Email James Gill at gill504nola@gmail.com.

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