Afghans emerge from Out of the Ashes
Taj Malik loiters at the zebra crossing on an empty street in Jersey, confronted by an age-old dilemma. To wait for the green man. Or to take his chances.
“It’s called rules and regulations,” he is told. There is no rush. Better to hold on. It is the only time during the course of the new film ‘Out of the Ashes’ where Afghanistan’s cricket team dallies about.
Starting out in Division 5 in the Channel Islands, the documentary-makers follow their rapid journey from the makeshift stone-covered pitches of Kabul to the pristine wickets of the West Indies and a place in the 2010 World Twenty20.
The original idea came from a newspaper story written by foreign correspondent, Tim Albone, about this newly-constructed side, whose seeds had been sown in the refugee camps of Peshawar. “We had talked about making a documentary about them and Tim phoned me from India,” reveals the producer, Leslie Knott.
“Knowing I was in Kabul, he said ‘ask the coach and see if he’s interested’. “So I said to Taj ‘how do you feel about us following you to Jersey and making a film about you?’ He was up for it. At the beginning, they thought we might be spies. They weren’t sure what we were up to. It took a while to build up trust. We had to get to know each other. But two years later and it’s all changed. We’re like sisters to them.”
Chain-smoking Malik is the father figure of cricket in the war-torn country, nurturing the sport while attempting to instil discipline into players who do not always share his simple vision. “There are a lot of problems in the world today,” he declares. “Everywhere, there is complex fighting and injustice. The solution to all the problems is cricket.”
That may be an idyll but as the Afghans progress up the rankings, victory by victory, they win hearts and minds at home and abroad. When they return from Jersey, there are parades in the streets. On subsequent triumphs in Buenos Aires and Tanzania, the celebrations grow larger. They become heroes. A sport that was, briefly, banned under the Taliban becomes a totem of unification. Malik does not last the distance.
Excited about the new office being built for him within the dedicated stadium in Kabul, he is instead cast aside and replaced by the former Pakistan Test player Kabir Khan. Devastated by his dismissal, he is forced to listen to the side’s ongoing progress on a short-wave radio and over the Internet.
Touchingly, he is eventually invited back within the fold when Afghanistan upset the odds and qualify for their first major tournament. The team are out-classed. But their mere presence is an achievement in itself, as this poignant and enthralling film reaches its end. “It was hard not to get caught up in it,” Albone admits. “It was just special to see what they did, especially in today’s world of sports with all the money and sponsorship deals, and the contracts. You have these guys playing for free because they love their sport. To see them get the World Twenty20 was amazing.” -
‘Out of the Ashes’ is on selected release and will be on BBC4 later this year. For information, visit http://www.outoftheashes.tv