Tales of an Afghan, the Basin, and a poet
It's not unusual for sport to provide cheer at times of misery. The rise of its cricket team has been one of most uplifting stories to have emerged from Afghanistan in recent times. Will Luke, who went to South Africa to cover the ICC World Cup Qualifiers, brought us the extraordinary story of Raees Ahmadzai.
As with many good stories, this one just happened. Will spotted Raees in the press box adjacent to the one he was in, chatting to the lone Afghan journalist at the tournament, an ardent cricket fan, who works for the BBC's Pashtun service. "So I seized my chance," Will says, "not knowing who he was. Fortunately he spoke eloquent English and, even more fortunately, he knew and loved Cricinfo."
The piece wrote itself. "There wasn't much cricket chat, and perhaps that helped me. I was talking to a human being instead of a sportsman trained in the art of replying to the media, which is nothing short of a disease spreading through the modern game.
"Afghanistan had already lost two, maybe three, wickets and he was due in at No. 6, but he didn't care. Instead, he made sure I was spelling Kacha Gari correctly, and scribbled other notes down. He was as keen as I was to tell his story, and in modern sports journalism how often does that come about?"
Halfway through the interview, Will even had a title in his head - "Cloth for balls, shoes for stumps". The piece took about an hour to write the next morning. "He was direct, honest, witty and generous. The piece was all there, already written. A stroke of luck really."
We are glad we sent Will out there. Thanks to Martin Willamson for arguing the case.
Sidharth Monga was in terrific form throughout India¹s tour of New Zealand. He was both prolific and able, every once in while, to produce a piece that was off-the beaten track. He also sent in diaries through the series, which provided glimpses into a touring cricket writer's life. Before he went missing in New Zealand, he sent us this one.
Out of nowhere, South Africa has landed two high-profile cricket tournaments. Peter Roebuck, now a part-time resident of the country, writes that South Africa won because it had the interest and the infrastructure, the space and the desire. But while the gains for South Africa have been substantial, he argues, the cost to the game, and the world, has been high.
I am amazed that Suresh Menon has managed keep his excellent column on cricket literature running for as long as he has. That's because he has not only read every cricket book worth reading, but even the more obscure ones. His latest is about Edmund Blunden, the English poet, one of many men of letters to have had a more than passing acquaintance with cricket.
Sambit Bal is the editor of ESPNcricinfo