Refugees bring virtuosity, force, and elegance to the game

Many refugees have played cricket in their home countries and are founding new teams in Germany. The national association benefits from this. England's soccer idol Gary Lineker may already be trembling.

Six years ago, Belal had training. At the time, he was still living in Kabul, the capital of his native Afghanistan. Belal was already a well-trained young man then, 19 years old. When he put on his gear to bat as a batsman hitting the small solid cricket ball across the pitch, the opposition knew there would be trouble. On that day six years ago, Belal was nervous because a few days later his team was to fly to South Africa for a match.

It almost never happened. Belal almost died. A suicide bomber, his body wrapped in a vest made of explosive material, had tried to gain access to the training area. Security forces at the entrance area were able to overpower him at the last moment.

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This is one of the reasons why Belal is in Germany today. To play cricket in peace. He is now 25 and came to Berlin three and a half years ago on a visa to study international management. His name is not Belal, but he does not want to read his real name in connection with this story in the newspaper. "Otherwise the Taliban will kill my family. Afghanistan is a strange country." He says this in such an unagitated tone as if he were reporting what was for lunch yesterday. For people from the crisis region of Afghanistan, terror has long been part of normality. On the outcome of events, the online cricket betting sites began to take bets.

Now Belal is standing on the Maifeld of the Olympic grounds in Berlin and talking about his passion. This place has seen very different times, but on this Sunday it lies there as peacefully as if nothing else had ever happened here except a game of cricket on camera. Next door, at the Waldbühne, the first fans are already waiting for a concert by the band Kings of Leon, and a few hundred meters to the south the Berlin Dressage Championships are just being decided. The only danger at the entrance area comes from the scalding hot coffee of a friendly souvenir seller who gives tourists access to the bell tower. On the Maifeld, the Bundesliga match between Viktoria 89 Berlin and RC Dresden goes into the next inning.

6000 members

Enthusiasts like Belal or his teammate Bashar Khan are currently ensuring that German cricket awakens from its slumber. Khan, 25, with thinning hair, long arms, a good bowler, was a first-team player in western Pakistan and would have stayed that way if the Taliban hadn't wanted to recruit him as a holy warrior. He has been in Germany for almost two years now, family, friends, his old life he had to leave at home. He took his love of cricket with him.

Biographies like his can be found in great numbers on the cricket grounds of this country. It is mainly refugees from Afghanistan or Pakistan who are responsible for the boom in the sport. There, cricket is a much-loved national sport, and beleaguered Afghanistan recently even made it into the top ten in world cricket. Six years ago, there were 70 cricket teams in Germany. Today, there are 300, and the membership of the German Cricket Association (DCB) has doubled in that time to 6,000. Its managing director, Brian Mantle, recently explained in an interview: "In my home club in Essen alone, 120 Afghans play cricket. For them, this sport is a piece of home. They come to a foreign country, language, food, culture, everything is new. But cricket is the same all over the world."

Recently, the sport had to be used for a rather unusual comparison. England's soccer idol Gary Lineker wrote in view of the superiority of the German kickers: "Title wins for the German U21 and the German national team in the Confed Cup. But in cricket, the Germans suck." If he's not mistaken about that.

Cricket in Germany is, above all, multicultural. Men from India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan, England, and Australia play at Berlin's Maifeld. You have to keep a very close lookout for Germans. Because the sport has a 400-year history but was banned by the Nazis after they seized power, it was only through immigrants from the major cricket nations that something like a cricket culture developed in Germany. They form the basis of the current boom.

One of their most notable representatives is Kashif Mahmood, captain of Viktoria Berlin. The 26-year-old was born in Berlin and his parents come from Pakistan. Since the U13s, Mahmood has been through all the youth national teams in this country, is now an international player, and helped Germany recently qualify for the World League of the 30 best teams in the world. For such a small cricketing nation, that's a huge achievement.

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Relying on sponsors and grants

Equipment, travel, and meals cost money, but the DCB must first have 10,000 members to receive financial support from the German Olympic Sports Confederation. Until then, clubs, officials, and players rely on private donations, sponsors, or grants from the International Cricket Council (ICC).

Attracting more donors would require getting more people interested in cricket, but that's not only problematic because the hour-long games don't seem very appealing to German sports fans, reported It already starts with the fact that the administration of the Maifeld tells the teams to keep the entrances to the inner area locked. Anyone who wants to get in needs patience and attentive players with a key at hand. Problems of a niche sport.