Hiking events

Hitchhiking in England after the Taliban takeover, an Afghan teenager, in the care of adoptive parents, impresses Freddie Flintoff with his pace and big hits

Fresh off the boat after cruising the waters between Greece and Italy, and a subsequent journey on an empty lorry that took him over the Anglo-French border, Adnan would reach Preston, a small town in Lancashire . It was to be the last leg of the Afghan teenager’s desperate journey to a land very different from the one he had left behind.

It was August 2021. It was when the Taliban had returned to power and every border post was witnessing an exodus.

Even before the changing of the guard, Adnan had no access to education. His village didn’t even have electricity. The evil, they feared, would soon worsen.

Unsurprisingly, Adnan agreed to the incredibly ambitious plan to cross continents on foot with practically empty pockets.

By the time he reached Preston he was starving and broke. Too exhausted to be on the run, he surrendered to the police. A night behind bars, a call for asylum, and the warm embrace of a sentient system – this would be the sequence of events that allowed Adnan to have a roof over his head and the benevolent umbrella of adoptive parents. Elaine and Barry – an elderly couple – would be her guardian angels in this cold new place.

The young Afghan boy’s first two weeks were spent on the sofa in the living room of his new home watching television. There was too much to process for the receptive young mind. Once in his room, he sat quietly on his bed. The culture was foreign, the environment new. He didn’t even know English.

Despite Elaine and Barry’s best efforts, the lines of communication with the new addition to their family could not be activated. Eventually, it was the father, an avid golfer, who made the breakthrough.

Elaine recalls the times: “He sat here for two weeks watching TV. And then one day Barry said, “Football?” He said: “No, no, no football”. When Barry asked ‘Cricket?’ Adnan’s eyes lit up and he replied, ‘Cricket, cricket’.

As Elaine speaks, Freddie Flintoff, England’s iconic cricketer, listens with interest.

These are scenes from the BBC documentary series Freddie Flintoff’s Field of Dreams. For filming, the multi-talented ‘cricketer-turned-boxer-turned-adventurer-turned-anchor’ is back in his corner of the country. It was there that he chose cricket over football simply because his father and grandfather wore white clothes and carried kits to the local ground at weekends. As he says, if it weren’t for this family tradition, cricket was too noble an pursuit for a plumber’s son.

Flintoff remembers his cricketing days in his village – playing with neighborhood Patels and some West Indians capable of hitting big shots. Migrants and the local working class have always been part of the English ecosystem, but their representation in the national team is not commensurate with their numbers locally.

A three-year-old study, Elitist Britain 2019, ranked cricket among the top 10 professions, along with politicians and military bigwigs, which were dominated by those attending a private school. Football was unbalanced proletarian. The 2019 survey showed that 43% of active male cricketers in England came from private schools. In football, the corresponding figure was 5%.

As part of the documentary, Flintoff, as a committed missionary, is on a cricket conversion campaign. His message: cricket is not fancy, people join in. As part of the reality TV storyline genre, England’s rare non-private school hero forms a team by hand-picking an eclectic group of mean-spirited, aggressive-looking working-class street kids .

Former cricketer Azeem Rafiq gives evidence during a parliamentary hearing at the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee on the governance of sport at Portcullis House in London on Tuesday, November 16, 2021. (House of Commons video capture via AP)

It’s too much of a coincidence that the documentary aired at a time when Yorkshire CC, under a chairman with Indian roots, is trying to overcome its horrific racist past and yearn to embrace inclusiveness. Change takes time. Earlier this month, the club’s former player Azeem Rafiq, the whistleblower responsible for exposing Yorkshire’s toxic culture that targeted Asians, claimed his family still faced “threats, attacks and intimidation”.

Adnan, 16, is the Flintoff of Sir Freddie’s team. When he picked up the game in Afghanistan, any piece of wood was called a bat and a ball was, well, a spherical stone. Now he wears sparkling whites and carries a bag of high-end cricket kit. He’s a left arm that can bend his back and play fast. He can also kick the ball seriously. He’s the serious cricketer who stands out in this ‘flying off the wall’ documentary which is receiving rave reviews.

As Adnan’s heartwarming story unfolded, the world tuned in for an emotional twist on the most endearing immigrant story to emerge from British shores.

Mohammad Farah, in a BBC documentary, announced that the real Mohammad Farah was someone living in Djibouti. It was a breathtaking confession. Whether in his interviews, his autobiography or even when he was with his wife and children, the British Hall of Fame Olympian and OBE recipient had lived a lie from the time he was victimized by trafficked from Somaliland at the age of four after the death of his father during the civil war. . At an age where parents spoil children, Mo Farah was forced to clean, cook and nanny all day for the young children of his fraudsters who forged his passport and posed as his adoptive parents.

In comparison, Preston’s change from Adnan had been easier. Older than Mo Farah when he parachuted into England and therefore better equipped to deal with the transition to the first world, the Afghan was blessed with kinder parents. But ultimately, it was the sport that gave the two acceptability in the society they so yearned to be a part of.

It has helped them break the ice, open doors, bring down the glass ceiling and, in Mo Farah’s case, reach those lofty heights where only national heroes reside. Europe’s lenient policy of welcoming refugees – even if it was economics and not empathy that pushed them to do so – brought them unexpected sporting advantages. Ethnic diversity causes teams to shed uniformity. They become versatile, dynamic and dangerously unpredictable.

Asian spinners and shrewd football playmakers with ties to Latin America and Africa have historically added new dimensions to teams that traditionally lacked these skills. A cricketer with Pakistani roots, Moeen Ali adds variety to England’s pace-focused attack, just as Imran Tahir did in South Africa. Zinedine Zidane is of Algerian origin, Deco was born in Brazil. They pulled the strings that allowed France and Portugal to play fusion football that was fun to watch.

Like Mo Farah, they are all tough men. As disadvantaged outsiders, they were forced to fight prejudice at every crossroads. They all had to train longer, run faster and be very smart to take the place of some local players. The harrowing life experiences would make them better equipped to deal with the pressures and downs of professional sports. What a defeat on track for Sir Mo when he lost his entire family and identity at the age of four.

The mental toughness of men like Farah, and even Adnan, was forged by what they went through early in life. Adnan can be trusted to nail a yorker on the last ball of a T20 game. Having risked his life with his leap into the unknown, he would not let the fear of failure at cricket enter his mind.

Send your comments to [email protected]

Sandeep Dwivedi
National Sports Editor
The Indian Express