BERLIN: A boom of interest in cricket in Germany, fuelled by the influx of asylum seekers from Pakistan and Afghanistan, is a tale poised to hit the silver screen.
The season has just finished, but as Brian Mantle, chief executive of the German Cricket Federation (DCB), explained, 2016 has seen clubs shoot up all over the country.
“The summer has been unbelievable, we’ve had success on and off the field and we’ve attracted sponsors,” Mantle said.
“If you name an area of Germany, chances are there is now a cricket club there or one about to be set up.
“It’s been quite incredible. We could even be soon watching a feature film…about German cricket and its impact on Afghan refugees.”
In 2015, Germany took in 890,000 asylum seekers, among them just over 40,000 Afghans and Pakistanis. Many of them soon asked: “Where can I play cricket?”
Before refugees began arriving in large numbers last year, there were only around 1,500 active cricketers playing in 70 teams in football-mad Germany.
Mantle says there are now 5,000 cricketers, playing in around 250 teams for 108 clubs – and the numbers keep growing.
The national German team, many of whose members have roots in cricket-mad India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan, has just won promotion from the International Cricket Council’s European Division Two.
“The goal for next year is to win promotion again in division one, which would put us in the world cricket league,” said Mantle.
“We wouldn’t be at the elite level, but we would have arrived.”
The cricket craze has generated huge publicity, both at home and abroad, and then came a phone call from a London-based film company, Life & Soul Pictures, which is interested in bringing the story of German cricket to the cinema.
The project is in its early stages, but has the working title “Rites of Passage”.
The script is being penned by the Berlin-based writer O’neil Sharma, who worked on Quentin Tarantino’s 2009 blockbuster “Inglorious Basterds” and the 2008 Tom Cruise film “Valkyrie”.
“The story caught my imagination as I am the son of immigrants – my parents came from India and I was brought up in London,” Sharma said.
“I was sick of reading negative stories about refugees, fears of terrorism, and this is a story about how sport can bring cultures together.”
Kabul-born Hamid Wardak was not even aware that cricket was played in Germany when he arrived in 2011. Now he is playing for the national team.
“It means a lot, because I am getting to play cricket in a land where I never even thought that cricket existed,” Wardak said.
“I left my country and came to Germany with the thought that I will go to Holland or England after some time and play there.
“But being able to play cricket – good-quality cricket – here is wonderful. It’s an honour for me to represent this land on an international level.”
Wardak is an example of the integration through sport that German Chancellor Angela Merkel perhaps thought she could only dream of.
The 28-year-old speaks fluent German lives in the northern city of Bremerhaven and works for the local authority as a translator to help refugees.
His passion is cricket, but he came to Germany for love, to marry an Afghan woman based here.
“But the love of the game made me find the cricket in Germany,” he said.
Wardak regularly makes a 140 kilometre (90 miles) round trip to play for his club SG Findorff, who are German champions this season, in the suburbs of Bremen.
“I played my first game here in 2012 and was eventually picked for a couple of national team camps,” he said.
“I obviously had to wait till I got my German passport and played officially in an ICC tournament this year.”
Fears for family
The chance to play cricket in Germany is a welcome distraction for many asylum seekers who worry about an uncertain future and are eager for news of relatives still at home.
Wardak is no exception.
He was born in Kabul in 1988, but as the civil war flared, his parents took him and his three brothers to the Pakistani border city of Peshawar in 1991, then deeper into Pakistan in 1999.
One of his brothers was shot dead in Afghanistan and his father died of cancer, leaving only his mother and two brothers there.
“I talk to my family once a week, but the situation there is very bad,” he said.
“I am very worried about my family, especially after the loss of my brother and father. My mum is very ill and still hasn’t recovered from the death of my brother.”
So the chance to play his childhood sport in his adopted country is a welcome relief.
His cricket team is as multicultural as the national football squad, which is often held up as an example of integration in German society.
“We have guys from Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Australia,” he said. “And last, not least Knoxy (Steven Knox), our coach, is from Scotland.
“I lived almost all of my life as a refugee in Pakistan, but never felt as welcomed as here in Germany.”