From Kabul to Croydon

This item is a tribute to Richard Wiggins, one of our most valued volunteers who was involved in our Refugee Cricket Project (RCP) and Hit The Top programmes who sadly passed away this month. Richard had a passion in seeing cricket used in a way that helped change young lives for the better. This is something he wrote about the RCP back in 2011.

Our thoughts and prayers are with Richard’s family and friends at this sad time. Rest In Peace Richard.

FROM KABUL TO CROYDON

I am sitting on the balcony of the fine pavilion of Cricket For Change  (now The Change Foundation) in Plough Lane, Wallington, near Croydon.   The Wednesday evening summer sun is lowering to my left as in front of me, forty to fifty teenage boys enthusiastically, passionately, practice their cricket under their similarly wholehearted and dynamic coach, Danny Baker (RCP coach at the time the article was written in 2011).

As I watch them play, practice, squabble in their utopia, my mind carries to the circumstances that have brought them together, as these lads do not originate from the local schools or community.  They have made the long, arduous, dangerous journey from the battlegrounds of Afghanistan to form the Refugee Cricket Project, a partnership between Cricket For Change and the Refugee Council.

For they have experienced the horrors or war, death and destruction; many have witnessed killings of family and friends, seen sights no teenager should see, and have fled their war-torn country to reach safety and security.   With them they have brought their passion for cricket, a sport inherited from their fathers who learned it when they were refugees in Pakistan thirty years before.   Cricket, not evolved over centuries in the gentle countryside of southern England, but forged and maintained with difficulty and passion through decades of fire and oppression.

The story of Afghanistan cricket is one of the most remarkable and inspiring in sport.   From the refugee camps, through turmoil, trauma, terrorism and Taliban, it was one man’s ambition and determination to build a national team.  The man: the authoritarian and obsessive Taj Malik.  The ambition: to compete with the best in a world cup. The achievement: despite internal personality clashes, raising the team five divisions in two years and appearing at the 2010 World 20/20 Cup in the West Indies.

Like their seniors, the boys’ cricket may lack the finesse of the classic style, but the proud spirit is undeniable.  A typical example was the match last year against the MCC when 0 for 2 wickets facing a 210 target.   The wicketkeeper, little higher than his pads, hit out with 66 in amazing colourful strokes, Tchaikovsky to the MCC’s textbook Bach.   The side went down by 18 runs but, with all guns blazing.  With these lads it’s death or glory.

This is mirrored in their bowling.  Fast and furious, everyone wants to be Malinga, although some useful spinners are coming through.

They are capable of higher innings as, on tour to the West Midlands last year, two centuries were scored; an unbeaten 151 by the captain and 116 from the indomitable wicketkeeper.   In 2010, they toured Scotland and, as well as sampling halal haggis, had the thrill of meeting their heroes, the Afghanistan international team.

Every Wednesday, straight from college or school, off come their uniforms etc, straight out in the middle, not a minute to be lost.   In bad weather or in winter, their evening continues in the magnificent indoor facilities.   Throughout the year, Danny  will be teaching, encouraging, cajoling, criticising them.  And they will answer back in a disciplined and relaxed atmosphere of easy banter.

Scoring several of their matches, I enjoy being with these lads.  They always greet me very warmly, despite over forty years’ difference in our ages.

As the sun descends and the boys come in for their post-practice meal, my feeling is of pleasure at them enjoying their few hours of heaven.   But it is also tinged with sadness for the prospects of those whose futures are so uncertain in the politics of immigration.   But all lives are constantly changing and, whether their futures lie in this country or they are returned to the cruelties of their homeland, they will look back with fond memories on those precious teenage times with Danny Baker at Cricket For Change.

Richard Wiggins – 24th December 2011

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Richard (back right on end) helping with scoring at launch of
Chris Gayle Academy 2013