'We didn't have any bats, so we used a broom': Afghan-born cricketer achieves field of dreams


Years after fleeing his homeland, an Afghan-born cricketer has led his team to second place in a multicultural tournament organised by the Big Bash League's Melbourne Renegades.

Fifteen years ago, Morteza Ali would have never imagined cricket becoming such a huge part of his life.

"Back home we didn't have any facilities, and we weren't allowed to play sport," he said. "There was only one tennis ball in our street. We would try to hide and play. We didn't have any cricket bats, so we used a broom."

Mr Ali was born in Afghanistan's south-east province of Ghazni, where his parents and brother died under Taliban rule.

At 16-years-old he fled his homeland and spent the next year making a long, treacherous journey towards Britain.

"It was very hard. I lost my family, and I didn't know where to go," he said. "I never came out of my town until I was 16. For me, that was my whole world. 

"I had to come from the other side of the world, travelling through different countries, walking. It took me a year and five days to arrive in the UK.

"There was starvation. We came through Russia, which was minus 30 degrees with no coats or jackets."

An enduring love for cricket

As he recounted his journey, Mr Ali was still able to draw comparisons to the sporting field.

"There were people who surprised me," he said. "People from a different religion, different background, they come to help you regardless of your skin or religion. Sport's the same thing."

A love of cricket helped him adjust to life in Britain, where he became one of the first Afghans to participate in England's county cricket circuit.

Eventually, he moved to Australia, where he's been helping promote the sport in Melbourne's Afghan community.

Most recently he captained a side of Afghan cricketers to the final of the Melbourne Renegades Champions League tournament between six teams of players divided into countries of origin.

Afghanistan ended up losing to India, but Renegades chief executive Stuart Coventry called it an indication of how far cricket's status has risen among Afghans across the world.

"You can see there's some super-quality talent coming out of Afghanistan," he said. "They're really passionate about their sport. 

"We're all about diversity and giving guys a chance. [The tournament] has a wonderful community feel. Everyone got together, showed their history, their culture, and they've now come together to play in the big final. 

"Who knows, next year we could be looking at an Etihad Stadium final."

More Afghan stars to come

Mohammad Nabi, one of Afghan cricket's biggest names, recently became the second Afghan player to join Australia's Big Bash League.

But the Melbourne Renegades star was confident the number would rise over time.

"The only one happiness in Afghanistan is cricket," he said. "When we win the games, we saw back home there is happiness. 

"There's a big community in Melbourne of Afghanis, and they have a lot of talent as well."

Morteza Ali has vowed to do his part to help future dreams in cricket - and beyond - come true within his community.

"I think it is my responsibility," he said. "Britain and Australia have done such a great job for us. 

"Through sport, I'm trying to bring guys up a bit higher, because I can see their potential and if there's a bit of guidance they can do well. 

"For me, it took a long time in Britain because I was new, and the same thing can happen here. They give me a lot of respect, so I try to coach them not just through sports but try to show them other opportunities as well."

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