The Afghan children who fled war-torn Kabul and found refuge in the cricket home

Five months ago, Mujtaba, Mustafa and Adeena Mayar played cricket on a dried-up spot of rolled mud in a Kabul park where the stray cattle and goats were the only spectators.

Their father, Bahawar, worried every time his two sons and daughter left home to play the game they loved, due to Taliban bombings and abductions. The 54-year-old former British military interpreter knew only too well the dangers they faced. Two years earlier, another son, Fahim, had been abducted and beaten near the park by the Taliban because of his work for the British military.

Bahawar himself had survived a Taliban ambush after gunmen pumped 13 bullets into his car as he drove home – one bullet passed under his seat, another smashed through the windshield and narrowly missed his head. He had received eight death threats, three to his family.

Bahawar Mayar with sons Mustafa (far left), Mujtaba (second from right) and other junior cricketers Jibrail, Azan and Samiah Hassankhek at Lord’s

“They loved cricket, but the shadow of the Taliban always hung over us because of the four years I spent with the British forces,” Bahawar recalled yesterday. “And every time the family went to play, there was the danger and fear that they might not come back from playing a game in a park – this was the reality in Afghanistan.”

He was speaking as he sat next to Mujtaba, 20, Mustafa, 17, and 21-year-old Adeena on the balcony of the English players’ locker room in the pavilion at Lord’s.

“Incredibly … it’s a dream come true,” Bahawar said. ‘The history, the legacy, the portraits of the greatest players of all countries: this is England and our new home. We are proud to be here. ‘

His views were echoed by 25 other Afghans accompanying the Mayar family to the ‘cricket home’ as part of an initiative run by a London charity, Capital Kids Cricket (CKC), to welcome those who arrived during August’s Remarkable Operation Pitting. This saw the dramatic rescue of 15,000 Afghans who were in danger at home due to their connections to Britain.

Still, more than 10 weeks after arrival, thousands stay in hotels due to lack of accommodation in the UK. CKC’s ‘Welcome’ program is aimed at supporting these families, while introducing them to British values ​​- crucial, emphasizing that boys and girls, men and women, should be treated equally.

Over a hundred newly arrived Afghans have attended cricket training sessions at Lord's

Over a hundred newly arrived Afghans have attended cricket training sessions at Lord’s

So far, about 120 newly arrived Afghans have attended cricket training sessions at Lord’s as well as on grounds across London. A few had never played cricket, but most had, despite the lack of equipment and facilities, and one had even represented Afghanistan at U17 level.

It was Afghan refugees who first introduced competitive cricket to their home country after learning the basics of the sport while in exile in cricket-mad Pakistan 30 years ago. All those who visited Lord’s spoke of their pride in Afghanistan’s progress to the recent UAE 20 World Cup.

England, they said, were their ‘second team’ but would become ‘first choice’ when Afghans broke into the county battle.

In a week where allegations of racism have engulfed the sport, CKC, whose motto is ‘Inspire, Challenge, Change’, hopes that their work represents a more positive side of cricket. President Haydn Turner said: ‘We are ethnically blind – and through cricket we work with every known ethnicity in London. We read in the Daily Mail the desperate situation of Afghans fleeing their country. When families and single children arrived in London, we were in a unique position to help.

‘For 30 years we have been training cricket with children in the inner city regardless of color, religion or gender, especially children with mental health and emotional problems. We meet a need without preconditions. ‘

Young people have been inspired by Afghanistan's progress to the recent Twenty20 World Cup

Young people have been inspired by Afghanistan’s progress to the recent Twenty20 World Cup

The man in charge of overseeing the Afghan program, CKC CEO Shahidul Alam Ratan, cites how its work with refugees in London over recent years and the ongoing cricket coaching of displaced Syrians in the sprawling Shatila camp on the outskirts of Beirut, will support the program. .

The charity has helped more than 300,000 boys and girls, since it began more than 30 years ago, help regenerate cricket in public schools, enabling children in disadvantaged communities to play.

“A few months ago, some of these families did not know if they wanted to escape the Taliban, and many left with the clothes they were wearing and lived through the nightmare of Kabul airport to reach Britain without knowing what awaited them. , “said Ratan.

A child who participated in Operation Pitting is playing cricket in Kabul earlier this year

A child who participated in Operation Pitting is playing cricket in Kabul earlier this year

“We intend to track these families as they leave London for their new homes and link them to clubs and counties, while helping with programs that will allow them to integrate with communities, learn UK values, improve their health and well-being, build their self-confidence, teach them leadership skills and, most importantly, how to work as a team. ‘

He highlights the success of a CKC initiative called Teams Not Gangs, following a wave of stabbings in the capital that encouraged children across London to turn their backs on gangs in favor of sport.

Ratan has identified several talented young players. Among them is 10-year-old Azan, who is bowling legs and arrived with five brothers and sisters the day before the bombing of desperate Afghans caught in the nightmare fallout outside Kabul airport.

“It was very scary,” Azan said. ‘There were so many people who were crushed, fell to the ground and cried. We did not know if we would ever be safe. ‘

Azan, whose father was already in the UK, added: ‘Coming to cricket’s home now is the most exciting thing I’ve done. I would very much like to play cricket for England, not Afghanistan. ‘

The children had been amazed at the gigantic portraits of the big players along the stairs to the changing rooms. Sir Ian Botham and Viv Richards proved to be particularly popular, pictures taken on telephone cameras marking moments.

Bahawar added: ‘All the boys here want their names on the boards. We are lifted up, encouraged by the Spirit of the Lord and those who help us. I’m here because the Daily Mail helped me fight my cause for many years when there seemed to be no hope, only bullets. Now my family will be helped by cricket to learn to work and live with others. ‘

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