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