Now for a truly in­spir­ing cricket story

Kapi-Mana News - - CLASSIFIED CLASSIFIED - JOSEPH RO­MANOS

If you want to read a cricket book with a dif­fer­ence, get hold of The Cor­ri­dor of Un­cer­tainty by Ni­har Suthar, an Amer­i­can au­thor of In­dian ex­trac­tion.

It’s the story of Afghanistan cricket. De­spite the Tal­iban, deaths, bombs and poverty, and even though Osama bin Laden is men­tioned more than Brad­man, it’s an up­lift­ing story.

There was ac­tu­ally cricket played in Afghanistan in the 1800s by Bri­tish sol­diers in Kabul, the cap­i­tal. But the game didn’t catch on, not like in neigh­bour­ing Pak­istan.

Suthar picks up the story in the mid-1990s, in a des­o­late Afghan refugee camp in Kacha Garhi in Pe­shawar, a tough city in north­ern Pak­istan, near the in­fa­mous Khy­ber Pass.

A few boys, Taj, Karim and Raees, teenagers or younger, de­cided they wanted to be crick­eters. They planned to form the Afghanistan Cricket Board, field a na­tional team and win the World Cup.

They’d been in­spired by crackly tele­vi­sion im­ages of Pak­istan win­ning the 1992 World Cup, when they beat New Zealand and Eng­land in the semi­fi­nal and fi­nal.

Cricket in New Zealand in­volves spon­sor­ship, vast tele­vi­sion cov­er­age, the lat­est equip­ment, good grounds, ex­pen­sive coach­ing and de­vel­op­ment pro­grammes, and var­i­ous lay­ers of rep­re­sen­ta­tive cricket, from 10-year-olds to test play­ers.

What the refugees in Kacha Garhi faced was in­deed a world away.

Their par­ents for­bade them to play – they were re­quired to work all day for a pit­tance to help sus­tain their fam­i­lies.

But they snuck around and per­se­vered. They fash­ioned a bat from tree bark and found an old ten­nis ball.

Amaz­ingly they im­proved enough to be able to play in a league com­pe­ti­tion in Pe­shawar, again with­out their par­ents’ knowl­edge.

They were joined by a few oth­ers, no­tably Al­lah Dad.

Suthar’s book traces Afghanistan cricket’s growth from there – petty ri­val­ries among some of the young cricket vi­sion­ar­ies, the dan­ger they faced tak­ing their game back home, and ne­go­ti­a­tions with the Afghanistan Olympic Com­mit­tee and then the Tal­iban, which ini­tially banned cricket.

The crick­eters even­tu­ally re­ceived a dis­pen­sa­tion to play, but only if they wore full Afghan at­tire, grew their beards out and prayed five times a day.

They wanted to hold tri­als, but couldn’t find a suit­able venue – the sta­dium in Kabul was used for weekly pub­lic flog­gings, am­pu­ta­tions and other pun­ish­ment.

Amaz­ingly, cricket grad­u­ally took hold and the tiny pool of crick­eters grew.

Afghanistan trav­elled to Pak­istan in 2001 for their first in­ter­na­tional matches and were play­ing there while Amer­i­can planes dropped bombs on their homes.

Still they bat­tled on. Then they be­gan to have suc­cess, win­ning the ICC divi­sion 5 in Jersey, divi­sion 4 in Tan­za­nia, divi­sion 3 in Buenos Aires. They nar­rowly missed qual­i­fy­ing for the 2011 World Cup, but made it for 2015, amid joy­ous scenes at home.

In that World Cup last year, they lost heav­ily to the big guns, but beat Scot­land in Dunedin by one wicket – 211-9 against 210. Their fi­nal pair put on 19 to win it.

It was one of the games of the tour­na­ment and, when you un­der­stand the back­ground, was re­ally a mir­a­cle.

I’ve read cricket books from WGGrace to Sachin Ten­dulkar, but noth­ing has been more in­spir­ing than Suthar’s The Cor­ri­dor of Un­cer­tainty, and the story of how cricket helped mend a torn na­tion.

SPORTS TALK

PHOTO: GETTY

Afghanistan play­ers cel­e­brate their his­toric World Cup win over Scot­land in Dunedin last year.

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