Blog - Sean McPartlin

03 Jun

New Williamfield in Stirling is in a fine situation for a cricket ground, next to Scotland’s ancient capital, and tucked into a large meander of the River Forth.

Take your guard and look up and over mid on,  and  you will see the inspiring sight of the Wallace Monument, proudly atop its crag. In the distance, past long leg,  is the field of Bannockburn, and way beyond deep square leg is the impressive presence of Stirling Castle, custodian of the central lowlands, gloomy on its rocky outcrop – repository of so much Scottish history, and a stand in for Colditz is the fondly remembered 1970s BBC TV series. Stirling Brig is also close by. 

So it’s a place ‘sae famed in martial story’ where Scotland entertain Afghanistan this week in the  Intercontinental Cup.

Afghanistan are certainly interesting opponents – the start of  their own incredible  rise in world cricket in 2001 only predates the establishment of this new ground at Stirling by five or six years, and yet, on their journey to 12th ranking, they have played the game with an intensity and passion which has beguiled fans all over the world.

Tim Albone,  one of the directors who recorded their emergence in the fine film “Out of the Ashes”, recalled his first experience of cricket in the war torn country when he was a foreign correspondent: 

“I was struck by the characters, the passion and the lack of facilities. It was cricket but not like anything I had seen before. They played on bumpy, dusty, uneven pitches. They used bricks for wickets, old, cracked bats and tennis balls. I was struck by the passion and the commitment and the natural talent. (Speaking to Cricinfo) 

So, in  a strange manner, there may be a resonance in their surroundings as the Afghans take the field at Stirling County on Tuesday. The Ochils rising starkly in the distance may echo the hills of their homeland, and whilst the antiquity and current status of the castle and Bannockburn may be different, those in the team who have looked upon military establishments such as the vast Camp Bastion, will no doubt cast a thought on the effects of war and armies and battles – whether historical or contemporary. 

This team have suffered from all the horrors of life in a war zone – the dangers, uncertainties, deaths and upheavals, and, in a cricketing sense, the impact has been on a lack of facilities and a requirement to play their ‘home’ games outwith the country, latterly in Sharjah. 

There is something poignant about a game as calm and civilized as cricket being born out of the ravages of war. It was the enthusiasm for the game in Pakistan, witnessed by Afghan refugees, which initially fired their interest, and now support within Afghanistan is growing rapidly, as they see their heroes on a world stage, bringing international fame to their country for positive rather than negative reasons. 

In Stirling, Afghanistan will be with the familiar figure of Andy Moles, and I’m sure club cricketers of a certain age, like myself, will also be sparing a thought for jousts over the years with that great Stirling County player, Irvin Iffla – a fine cricketer and a gentleman. In addition, Scotland, of course, have a matter to settle with Afghanistan from their last meeting Down Under, though, surely, this four day game won’t be settled in the final over? 

One more point of contact in this Women in Sport Week.. 

New Williamfield is the base for  our Scottish Wildcats whose players and coaches have done so  much to promote the game – and women’s sport in general – these past few years. It can be a tough job promoting and sustaining women’s sport in Scotland – and cricket in particular, but they have stuck to their guns and with support from the national body and elsewhere have tasted success and provided brilliant role models for sportswomen in Scotland. 

We should spare a thought, then, for their counterparts in Afghanistan, where the idea of women participating in any sport is frowned on by certain elements. Afghan women’s cricket refuses to go away, however, and despite some false starts and the difficulties inherent in their situation, they still seek to develop and take to the world stage with the same drive as their male counterparts.

We know in Scotland that establishing ourselves as a cricketing force in an international sense can be a frustrating business, but we can only congratulate our visitors from Afghanistan on the fight they have put up, the determination they have shown, and the success they have achieved against such a difficult background. 

Welcome to Scotland – may the best team win!

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