The sound of bat striking ball rings around Kabul’s international stadium, only days after the country fell to the Taliban.
The tranquillity of the deserted stadium is in stark contrast to the desperate attempts of tens of thousands of Afghans to evacuate via Kabul airport.
Following the hardline Islamists’ surprise victory, many members of Afghanistan’s beloved national cricket team are struggling to concentrate.
“The terror is there in their eyes, voices, even in their texts,” Naveen-ul-Haq remarked in a BBC radio interview over the weekend.
“The Taliban say they won’t bother sportsmen, but nobody knows,” said Haq, who plays in the Caribbean Premier League.
With the Taliban’s return comes terror in Afghanistan and around the world, recalling their ruthless rule from 1996 to 2001, when they imposed a strict form of Islamic law.
They outlawed most types of recreation, including sports, and used stadiums for public executions.
The Taliban allowed only men to play and watch sports.
But they liked cricket, and the game created decades ago on English fields is also liked by Taliban warriors.
That hasn’t helped many players, for whom the country’s demise is about much more than sports.
“I plead to world leaders: please do not let Afghanistan slide into chaos,” former national captain Mohammad Nabi tweeted days before Kabul fell.
“Please help us. No war.”
Cricket was unknown in the country until the early 2000s, when Afghan refugees introduced it back home.
But the national squad has risen rapidly since then, earning Test status in 2017 and now ranking among the top 10 sides in the world in one-day and Twenty20 cricket.
It has also become a potent emblem of national solidarity in a country torn by civil war and ethnic strife.
“It’s just cricket… that provides good news to the country. It is vital to Afghanistan “Tell the BBC.
“It’s not a game for Afghans.”
On August 19, little than a week after the fall of Kabul, Afghans celebrated their independence.
Taliban have replaced the tri-colour national flag with their white banner in places under their control.
“The day Afghans lost their country and the whole world just watched,” all-rounder Samiullah Shinwari said alongside a photo of the Taliban taking over Kabul on August 15.
Fears for loved ones at home plague Afghan sportsmen who are now abroad.
Rashid Khan’s family cannot leave Afghanistan, according to former England cricketer Kevin Pietersen, who spoke to him last week during a competition in Britain.
The Afghanistan Cricket Board tweeted images of its freshly reappointed chairman on Sunday, indicating all was well.
Despite the uncertainty, Afghanistan’s cricket officials anticipated their next ODI series against Pakistan would go forward.
It was postponed until next year on Monday.
“Players’ mental health difficulties, disruption in aircraft operations in Kabul and other issues” were cited as reasons for postponing the series.
Images from home are tough to ignore for those who can play away from Afghanistan, like Haq in the West Indies.
“You forget about it for a few seconds to focus on cricket, but it comes back,” he told the BBC.
“You can’t focus on cricket when you see your country like that,” he said.