Afghan 'googly': How do you translate cricket into Pashto?

People playing cricket in Kabul, Afghanistan

Cricket in Afghanistan has grown dramatically over the last decade. But the country's growing love affair with cricket has presented sports reporters with a peculiar problem - what is Pashto for 'googly'?

The first Afghan national team was established as recently as 1997 - and even then it was a team of Afghan refugees in Pakistan playing small local towns.

The scenes of jubilation that greeted Afghanistan's qualification for its first ever Cricket World Cup this October showed just how much progress the sport has made in establishing itself in the Afghan mainstream.

But early on sports reporters immediately faced the dilemma of how to commentate on the game to a largely uninitiated audience - in English, or in Pashto?

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We used to get more than 10,000 emails [asking about cricket terms] during a game”

End Quote Emal Pasarly BBC Pashto Service
Blank slate

English terminology is used in Pakistan, India and Bangladesh - but cricket has a long-established tradition there. Meanwhile, Afghanistan's nascent cricket culture initially presented sports reporters with somewhat of a blank slate - albeit a blank slate with many, many questions.

What is an umpire? What does he do? What is a wicketkeeper?

'I remember we used to get more than 10,000 emails during a game,' recalls Emal Pasarly, BBC Pashto Service multimedia editor. It was mainly people getting interested in the game and adding to their vocabulary.

For the sports reporters, it wasn't simply a question of language but about explaining the game itself. And cricket is not exactly the simplest sport the UK has ever exported.

'That was the time when I found out it was very difficult to do written commentary on it because I didn't know what to call 'runs', or 'batsman', or 'bowler', because most of the Afghans who have no clue of cricket would have no idea what we were talking about,' says Fasarly.

Emal Pasarly in 2009 with the Afghan cricket player Noor Ali Emal Pasarly with Afghan cricketer Noor Ali in 2009
Explain googly

Some were relatively easy to translate. Runs became 'manda', which means 'running'. Batsman became 'jorawankay' - the run maker. Umpire was 'lobsar' - the overseer. 'Topachawnkay' - literally the person who is throwing a ball - replaced bowler.

But anyone who's ever tried to explain 'googly', 'silly mid-on', or 'gulley' to cricket's uninitiated can empathise that direct translations are not always very helpful.

'For gulley, I used to say in our commentary '45 degrees from the batsman'... so I had to describe the position on the field,' says Pasarly. It was the same for positions like mid-off or mid-on.

LBW was a problem too, he says. Even in English it's shortened from 'leg before wicket' to LBW.

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I wish we had [had]someone like us before us”

End Quote Emal Pasarly
Stick to English

'In Pashto you'd have to explain the whole thing, which would take about two lines. You'd need to explain [it all] - that the ball should hit the pads... when the pads [are] in front of the wicket... when it's hit you in lineā€¦ etc.'

Deciding what to do with these difficult terms was thus quite simple, he says. Leave them in English.

Gradually, with the help of the BBC Pashto Service's audience and some language experts, a unified terminology became established.

'The Afghan Cricket Board issued a statement [recently] and they used the same wording that we developed,' Pasarly tells Ariel.

Other media organisations, which only started to cover the sport from around 2010, followed suit.

'I wish we had [had] somebody like us before us,' adds Pasarly wryly. 'It would have saved a lot of work.'


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