SHARJAH - Expats from both Pakistan and Afghanistan thronged the Sharjah Stadium for the first-ever one-day international here on Friday, with the fans uncertain who to support for a win.

Afghanistan, who rose to gain one-day status in 2009, have played 18 one-day games against fellow Associate teams, but Friday’s match was their first against a top Test playing nation.

And for Pukhtoons, one of the major cast living in Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan in the province of Khyber Pukhtunkhwa, it was a dilemma who to support among a capacity holiday crowd of 15,000.

Pakistan’s Umar Gul, Younis Khan and Shahid Afridi also speak the Pushtoon language.

“It’s no doubt an historic occasion,” said Gulbadeen Salami. “I have lived half my life in Pakistan after fleeing there in 1979 so both are my countries.”

Most of the Afghanistan players learnt the game while living in refugee camps in Pakistan after they had to flee their country following the Russian invasion in 1979. Pakistan also helped Afghanistan in setting up their cricket infrastructure and allowed their teams to play in their domestic competitions. Hundreds of fans started their journey towards the stadium early, taking buses to the stadium from the adjoining states of the United Arab Emirates — home to millions of labourers from Pakistan, India, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka.

Habibullah Khan, who works in a shop in Sharjah, said he will support Afghanistan. “I love cricket and will support Afghanistan,” said Khan, holding a tri-colour Afghanistan flag. “My favourite player is Mohammad Shazad, who hits sixes and is from my town — Paktika (one of 34 provinces in Afghanistan).”

But overall, Afridi remains the top favourite player from either side. “We are supporting both the teams,” said Haji Malik from Kabul. “I wish Afghanistan win this match but my favourite is Afridi, who lives in the hearts of all the Pukhtoons.”

Organisers hoped the sell-out crowd will induce more and more people to join the game in future. “Sharjah has been home to cricket for many years now and this Pakistan-Afghanistan match will add to the charm, not only for the locals but also for the expats,” said Mazhar Khan, secretary of Sharjah Cricket Council.

The Council started Cricket Benefit Fund Series in 1980s which also supported former cricketers with cash benefits and has staged 201 one-dayers before this match — a world record in international cricket.