From refugee camps to Lord’s, dizzy­ing rise of Afghan cricket

Kuwait Times - - SPORTS -

The man­i­cured emer­ald pitch at Lord’s in Lon­don, where Afghanistan played for the first time ever Tues­day, is a world away from the bor­der refugee camps where the coun­try found its love for cricket.

In dusty Pak­istani camps like Khurasan, young bare­foot crick­eters have no pitch, no kit, no wick­ets, no hel­mets, no gloves and no shade-only the hunger that helped cat­a­pult Afghanistan into the elite group of Test na­tions last month.

Mil­lions of Afghans flee­ing war have sought refuge for nearly 40 years in camps out­side Pak­istan’s bor­der city of Pe­shawar, where they have been ex­posed to the crick­et­ing fever that has gripped their neigh­bour­ing na­tion since Bri­tain colonised the sub-con­ti­nent cen­turies ago. “We learned cricket here and we took this cricket with us to Afghanistan, and now Afghanistan has a team which plays on a world level and the en­tire world has recog­nised it,” 35-year-old Ab­dul Wahid, a refugee from Ku­nar prov­ince, tells AFP.

He and a gen­er­a­tion of Afghans spent years cheer­ing for the Pak­istani team be­fore dar­ing to dream of more. Wahid, who missed out on a spot in the na­tional team but now coaches refugees, says his con­tem­po­raries in the camps learned to play with ten­nis balls. The best of them would go on to join academies in Pe­shawar, where they en­coun­tered the hard cricket ball for the first time. Faridul­lah Shah, a coach with the Pak­istan Cricket Board, re­mem­bers the fierce de­ter­mi­na­tion of the Afghan play­ers who reached the academies. “They used to work as labour­ers un­til the af­ter­noon and were later play­ing cricket here... The team of Afghan play­ers was named the ‘Team of Chick­ens’” as many were try­ing to sur­vive by sup­ply­ing poul­try in Pe­shawar, he says. They wor­ried about how to af­ford kit but played ev­ery day, Shah re­calls. “They had ex­treme ea­ger­ness-more than our play­ers-and that was the rea­son for their suc­cess.”

SUR­VIV­ING ON BIS­CUITS

At the Is­lamia Cricket Academy, se­lec­tor Qazi Shafiq, a for­mer first class player, agrees. “Afghans are quick learn­ers-if you pin­point a mis­take, he un­der­stands ... then he will work hard on that,” Shafiq says.

“I will not men­tion his name but one Afghan na­tional player told me that he had to bor­row money to reach here... and then he could only af­ford a 10-ru­pee (10-cent) packet of bis­cuits a day on which to sur­vive.” As­ghar Khan, a coach and twice the pres­i­dent of the Pe­shawar district cricket as­so­ci­a­tion, re­mem­bers Afghan play­ers as “the beauty of tour­na­ments here”.

He rat­tles off a list of names, from Mo­ham­mad Nabi-whom Khan praises for his “long, long sixes”-up to As­ghar Stanikzai, cap­tain of the Afghan cricket team. All learned in Pe­shawar, Khan says, with many like Shapoor Zad­ran be­gin­ning in the refugee camps.—AFP

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