Afghan refugees seek the basics: shelter, soap – and cricket equipment

Afghan cricket in London can be a lifeline for refugees

Tony Bishop

Afghanistan may have lost their first Test match in two days but as victory in three of their next five has indicated, along with an enviable white-ball record and worldwide recognition for a number of their finest players, the troubled nation has a deep and growing love for the game.

Perhaps, then, it should not come as too much of a surprise that refugees settling in at least one part of the UK have highlighted cricket equipment as among their most significant needs – only just behind bodily requirements such as shampoo and soaps of various sorts.

The Milton Keynes Citizen reports that Lib Dem councillor Paul Trendall has been co-ordinating an appeal to donate necessities to help the refugees, who have initially been placed in hotel accommodation in the Buckinghamshire city under the UK government's Afghanistan Relocations & Assistance Policy scheme (ARPA).

He told the newspaper: "Over 3,000 people have contacted me [to help]. Consequently the response regarding donations has been overwhelming. We held our last two donation events yesterday. We will now pause and sort through the huge volume of donations.

"We will now start to focus on specific things required to fill any gaps. We know we still need shampoos, conditioners, body lotion and cricket equipment – hugely popular in Afghanistan."

The news comes after the Taliban, which has taken back control of the country amid heartbreaking scenes over the past two weeks, gave the go-ahead for the men's team to play a historic first Test in Australia. It may sound like PR, but the new regime has reportedly even offered an invitation to Australian cricketers to visit Kabul.

A Cricket Australia statement to Daily Mail Australia confirmed the Aussies planned to go ahead with the match, to be staged in Hobart in November, despite the turmoil in Afghanistan after the collapse of the western-backed government.

Anything that helps those fleeing from desperate conditions is to be welcomed, and as Julia Farman, of the charity Cricket Without Boundaries, says: "We have seen the positive effect playing cricket can have amongst refugees, particularly the Afghan diaspora.

"What is vital is that as organisations we continue to support the facilitation for Afghans and other refugees to play cricket no matter where they are in the world."

However, she cautions that similar openness is required back in their home country, now deserted by US and coalition troops for the first time in two decades: "Whether the Afghan Cricket Board will be allowed by the new regime to retain its female representation and facilitate safe spaces for girls to play, required by the ICC for its recognition status ongoing, is another matter."

Jules, a Guerilla Cricket commentator, adds that Cricket Without Boundaries plays an annual charity match against the Afghan Refugee Cricket Project, in Croydon, south London.

She says it aims "to raise money for their overseas work – and this year [we] were able to supply kit to Serbia (with Bat for a Chance) for Afghan refugees in the camp there".

It may just be that many cricket clubs will in the near future benefit from a membership of new and highly-talented Afghan cricketers, if they receive the support, encouragement and equipment they need to pursue their passion in a new country.

You can click here to learn more about Cricket Without Boundaries and their extraordinary work.