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Couch Talk

'Before a game started, my job was to look for bombs'

An Afghan and an Australian talk about moving to United States and rediscovering their love for cricket there

Subash Jayaraman: The guests today are Edward Fox, who is an Aussie who moved to the US 24 years ago, and Archiwal, who took to cricket in Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan, and now lives with Fox.
Edward, you're from New South Wales and you settled in - of all places - Kansas.
Edward Fox: I was living in Brisbane, working in Duty Free. This Kansas girl accosted me at work and said that I should take her out to dinner. I ended up in Kansas three years later. Three kids and married for 25 years now.
Jayaraman: Moving to Kansas in the early '90s, what was it like trying to find cricket?
Fox: I figured I would never see cricket again. I caught up with cricket through videos the family sent over. It wasn't until 1997 that I happened to have email contact with somebody out of Tulsa who said there was some cricket club in Wichita. I was like, "Are you crazy?" It mentioned that they all speak Hindi and I probably wouldn't fit in. I thought, well, it was at least nice to know.
Jayaraman: You went on to build your own cricket stadium.
Fox: It is a cricket field. We started out with a level piece of ground and threw in a concrete pitch and covered it with outdoor carpet, like I had grown up with back home - very consistent bounce, low maintenance.
We bought a piece of property in 2002 that had a house on it and 10 acres spare. We poured the concrete pitch in April 2003 and played the first game in late April or early May. We played only a few games that year. Every year since, we've played a ton of games on that pitch.
Jayaraman: Archi, could you talk about your introduction to cricket and where you picked it up, your background?
Archiwal: Everybody remembers the Russian attack on our country, Afghanistan. We moved to Pakistan, to a refugee camp. I grew up in a small tent. I remember Imran Khan, Wasim Akram, Aaqib Javed played for Pakistan when I was a kid. We started in the street with just a small [piece of] wood and ball made with ropes stuck together. We started playing together and called ourselves by the players' names, like, "I am Wasim Akram", "I am Aaqib Javed." And then Shahid Afridi came into cricket. He introduced me to cricket because he was Pashtun like us and we were proud of him.
"Archi and I had a game to see who can hit the stumps 10 times first. We were neck and neck and he beat me - that has never happened before"
Edward Fox
I watched the final of the 1996 World Cup and slowly moved to cricket.
In 2003, when America came to Afghanistan, I joined the army, got a bit busy and made a little money. I helped other kids buy bats and balls. The American government helped us buy some cricket stuff too.
With the hard ball, I only started playing in 2011. I played with some of the national players, like Mirwais Ashraf. In our country, you had to be rich to be in a cricket team. I tried my best, but I didn't get a chance.
Jayaraman: Did you play with a tape ball for most of that time?
Archiwal: Yes, but before that we actually played with a ball made with ropes and stuck things to it to make it hard. After 2001, our father got a little bit of money and bought us a ball. The tape was expensive, so we went to the young people who were playing and throwing their tape away. We picked them up and made our own balls.
Jayaraman: You moved back to Afghanistan in 2003. Did you have the time to play cricket at all?
Archiwal: I was in the army for three to four years. In 2004-05, I started playing with my brothers and cousins once again. Then I was introduced to one of the small teams and I became the captain. That is how I met Mirwais Ashraf. He was a skinny guy at that time. Now he's very big. I never wore a helmet but that was the fastest bowling I had seen in my life. I was scared. We had no practice. We had gone to the province because I thought this was a chance for me to show [my skills]. I went there and tried my best. I actually got in touch with a lot of players and people who knew cricket. But I had no luck.
I was good enough, but we had no money and no time for practice. When I was making money, I thought maybe I wasn't going to be good enough, so we gave the stuff to kids I barely knew.
Jayaraman: Edward, in some sense, what you have done is provide cricket facilities.
Fox: We went back to Australia for a family vacation in 2002. The kids ended up with a cricket set there. At that time Jason, my older son, was 10. We played cricket in the driveway and brought back a lot of memories. We get back to America and Jason has fallen in love with cricket. He asks me if I can show that to his PE teacher.
I grabbed one of the Kanga cricket sets that Cricket Australia was promoting at the time and demonstrated cricket to the PE teacher. The PE teacher says, "I have got another PE teacher friend in another school. You go and show them." Before I know, between late 2002 and 2010, I have shown 60,000 kids across 32 schools in nine school districts how to play cricket. I have created my own brand - "Hotshot Cricket" - and sourced my own equipment through Cricket Australia. I start giving them away and sell them to schools and church groups etc. Now I am fired up about cricket and working for myself and I want to build my own team.
Creating the pitch cost me around $5000. The carpet cost me $1200, and another $200 on the glue. So far, it hadn't been real expensive, other than the cost of the land.
But then we started adding the nets - another five grand. And we built a pavilion with AC and satellite TV. For a while we had a stump cam that would transmit to our big-screen TV. It was a lot of fun, but all in all it probably cost me, including the land, a $130,000.
We created the "Wichita World XI", which was open for any skill level. You should see the picture of our first team: there were three Americans who didn't know how to hold the bat. I had my 10-year-old son bowling legspin, me, who had never been a very good cricketer but a passionate one, was bowling right-arm rubbish and picking up wickets. I was holding up one end like Chris Tavaré or Geoff Boycott.
Jayaraman: Archi, how did you come to move to the United States?
"Before the game starts my job and my brothers' and cousins' job is to look for IEDs and bombs. We have been targeted six to seven times. But I continued with cricket. I never quit"
Archiwal: When I was a soldier in the Afghan Army, we had just two American advisors in our team and we ended up in a small town. I was the only one with a little English skills. Just, "How are you?", "What is your name?" and stuff that we learn in school. I started talking to the people with my hands, a little bit English.
We stayed there for four to six months and I learnt a little bit more English. My three-year contract was about to end. I was asked what I am going to do. I told them I was going to go home and start some small business. He said, "Why don't you be a translator for us?" I said okay. I was with them for four to five years. They had a programme in 2009 for a special immigrant visa.
In 2014, I got my visa. When I landed in New York, I'd given up on cricket. But in class with the IRC - International Rescue Committee - they were teaching cultural orientation. They asked me what I like and I told them I liked to play cricket but thought nobody played cricket here. They said, "No, I think there are teams here and people play cricket", and they called [Edward]. He asks me what I can do. I tell him I can do everything - I can bowl, I can bat, I can field, I am a good wicketkeeper. In the evening he picked me up. He saw my bowling and asked if I wanted to play the next day. I said, "Really? Sure!"
He drove me to Oklahoma, and I got my first wicket off my second ball of the game. And I ended up with 40 runs or something. It was my first game. I fell in love with Wichita.
Jayaraman: How long were you in New York, and how did you get to Wichita?
Archiwal: I wanted to be away from the crowd. I didn't like cities, so I told them, send me to some place with no crowd and people. I was not thinking about cricket at all.
Jayaraman: Edward, what was it from your point of view, when you first got a call about this new guy who has been brought over and wanted to play cricket?
Fox: I get these calls a lot. Normally they are from Pakistan and India. When Archi called [in 2014], it was hard for me to understand over the phone for the first couple of days, so I had to meet him in person to find out his story. I am always on the lookout for cricketers. I was one short for a game two days away at Oklahoma, a three-hour drive.
So I put him through his paces and offered to take him to Oklahoma City. The rest is history. We take him down there and he bats like Afridi - throws the bat at everything. He got 40 off 12 balls or something. It was ridiculous. He walks off and says, "See? I told you I could do it." I thought to myself, "I am going to deal with a diva here."
Jayaraman: What has been the relationship between the two of you, on and off the cricket field?
Fox: Archi is one of the best bowling at the stump. I challenge any of my bowlers in the nets as to who can hit the stumps the most, bowling naturally. Most of my guys can't hit the stumps but they will appeal for a thousand lbws. Because we are playing on a concrete pitch, the ball is bouncing [over the stumps], but they like to appeal.
Archi and I had a game to see who can hit the stumps 10 times first. We were neck and neck and he beat me - that had never happened before. We both got to nine and I missed a couple of times and he got the 10th one.
He is really good at bowling where I need him to. On the field he has high standards. I have seen this guy run from long-on to deep cover and dive to take a catch one-handed. You might see one come right down his throat and he flops it. And then he is mad with himself as he is with everybody else. The more difficult the catch, the more likely he will catch it.
He is very fun to be around on the field, as well as off the field. We have actually ended up basically adopting him like a son. He was in the family pictures the other day. He is living with us right now. It is great to have him here. We are like an extended family - though iIt doesn't mean that I am opening my house to adopt every wannabe cricketer.
"I would like to sit in a wheelchair when I am 90 years old, on the pavilion verandah, and watch little kids play cricket, and watch thousands of kids play cricket in Kansas and across the USA"
Edward Fox
Talking about helping people is cheap. Doing something by putting your personal comfort aside and getting out of your comfort zone is important. Cricket is a great sport for that.
For as much as you and I get out on field together, subcontinental players have a different perspective on how the game is to be played as compared to Australian players. We are raised differently, what we appeal for is different. It has taken me a lot of work. It has brought us closer together, from all those cultures.
My kids have met Zimbabweans, Afghans, guys from UAE, Indians, Pakistanis and West Indians. They have grown up around multiculturalism, and the teachers from schools say that my kids are gifted. They are not gifted. They have been given opportunities through cricket to experience the world, to understand views from different cultures. That has been a real bonus.
Archi, to me, is a young man who has put his life on the line for American forces. Why shouldn't he be treated and helped in any way we can? I have seen the generosity of cricket players from all nations, how they open up their homes and their wallets and help out people. That is one thing that excites me about cricket.
Jayaraman: Archi, what has been your experience so far living in USA?
Archiwal: The experience is great. I got more than I was expecting. I can't meet my family in my whole life again. But when I come here, whenever I have a hard time and I come to [the Foxes] and need advice, they help me. Especially his wife. She is my mom. If I have a rough time or something, I ask her what I should do. Jason is like my brother. We hang out and talk to each other, share our problems. I was scared when I ended up in Wichita and I had nobody. And then I have this family. They treat me more than a son.
Jayaraman: What is the future, in terms of cricket moving forward, not only for you and Archi and your kids, but in in Kansas and Wichita?
Fox: I am vice-president at USYCA (United States Youth Cricket Association). I think junior cricket is the key in the US. A lot of my Indian friends - hotel owners - that I met through cricket would say that there is no return of investment on a cricket field. They say that I could have taken that $100,000 and invested it in a hotel. I would say, "Yeah, but I wouldn't have the life that I have today."
I am 48 years old. When I came to America, I was 22 and thought I would never play cricket again. I was seven when I started playing cricket. So at 35 I get back into playing cricket. I don't know how to hold a bat, I can't remember how to bowl. I have played cricket every year from 35 through 48 except for one year out with an injury.
One of my goals is: to get an LED cricket scoreboard. I can get it from China for $1500 and install for $500. I need to raise $2000 for that.
And then, I talked to a guy who has WiFi cameras. He said he can set up a control room and cameras from all areas of the ground to record our matches for $10,000. If I can no longer play cricket, I can sit at the desk and work the controls and pan and zoom the camera on Archi as he is being Afridi and smacking 50 runs off 12 balls. Then I can record it and put it up on YouTube.
I would like to sit in a wheelchair when I am 90 years old, on the pavilion verandah, and watch little kids play cricket, and watch thousands of kids play cricket in Kansas and across the USA. And Archi is open to help me build up that too, right?
Archiwal: Yes. My dream is for America to recognise cricket. I didn't have the chance when I was in my country. In 1997, my father took me to Afghanistan, when there was a Taliban ruler. I was listening to the radio cricket commentary. The man slapped me in the face, broke my radio and asked why I was listening to this game.
I never had a chance. We had a ground in our town. I built it, begged everyone to give me money so I can build it. But before the game starts, my job and my brothers' and cousins' job, is to look for IEDs and bombs. We have been targeted six to seven times. But I continued with cricket. I never quit. I can't run away every day.
That is how those kids there have been. There is a shooting or whatever, but they love cricket.
I had no chance with my country. But, maybe I have a chance for cricket in America.
Fox: We play cricket because it was fun. I was such a bad cricketer that unless I had a bat and a ball, I didn't get to play. But I wanted to play. I didn't have to go through all the crap Archi had to go through. I didn't have to clear my cricket field of IEDs and bombs and then go play on it. In countries like Afghanistan, these guys have a passion for the game and are going to build it regardless. Building a ball out of a rope and tape - are you kidding me? I love hearing the story.
I believe we have a real chance of having a non-traditional cricket pathway for American kids if we can stop worrying about the money and start worrying about having fun.