Friday, October 14, 2016

Dream of Pakistan's Cap (Part 6)

Ahmedis in Pakistan

Fazl-e-Umar routinely play against visiting clubs and tour other cities, though Haye notes that nowhere else are the facilities as good. Occasionally a star cricketer or two has shown up in Rabwah, including Rana Naved-ul-Hasan, Saeed Ajmal and Mohammad Hafeez. Ajmal, the legend goes, was hit for seven sixes in six overs, and the umpire wanted to report his action. Haye stopped him from doing so, not wanting to offend their guests.

Rabwah has no star cricketers of its own. Faisal bin Mubashir may be the best-known Ahmadi cricketer in recent years, and while his team-mates know of his faith, it isn't a fact he pushes in anyone's face. When he visits Rabwah he tries to pass on to the club's players what he has gleaned over the years.

There is an Urdu phrase that you will hear often in Rabwah: rang lagna. Literally, it means to be coloured, but in this case it is taken to mean getting the green cap of Pakistan. This national recognition remains out of reach in Rabwah, where the belief that societal discrimination against Ahmadis must naturally extend to cricket is embedded. None of the boys believe they will ever have a shot at representing Pakistan, even if only a few have gone further than club cricket.

On the surface their stories are not different to those of so many aspiring cricketers who feel they have not got their due because they didn't have the right connections or didn't come from the right part of the country. But unlike the majority, underpinning the disgruntlement of these stories is their faith.

"It's one thing if there is a future," Anas Amin, a 22-year-old bowler, tells me, his head bowed as he tries to keep score at the Sunday match. "The religious issue comes in between."

"You need a lot of hard work to play first-class," says Zubair Ahmad. "And our class will be an issue. We can't even greet anyone with salaam." (Ahmadis are not allowed to use Islamic words.)

The club has produced an array of cricketers they feel were above ordinary - several star batsmen, a fast bowler they felt was better than some who had represented Pakistan. But no one sticks around long enough. "They're all looking for an agent who can take them to Germany," Haye says and laughs. Eight of the club's best players recently moved to Germany, leaving Haye in the lurch, scrambling to recruit and train more players. The legend of the men who left overshadows almost every conversation. Everyone has a brother, a cousin or an uncle who made it out, and who managed to keep playing cricket in a league in England or Holland or Germany.

Leaving isn't easy. It can cost up to $15,000 to get out of Pakistan. "Anyone who has that much money can go to Germany or England, where their life will be much better," Zubair says. "They can play cricket in England. And earning a thousand [euros] there means Rs 100,000 in Pakistan." Many Ahmadis travel to Thailand or Sri Lanka, where they try and claim asylum, or use it as a base to strike out to Europe.

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