It’s a cricketing story to warm the heart – the tale of how the sport has enabled a young man to start a new life after having to flee his homeland.
In August last year Jon Heaven of Chichester Priory Park CC was contacted by the Chichester Foyer sheltered housing centre for young people about a young Afghan asylum seeker they had staying with them named Ezaz.
One of the few English words he knew was ‘Cricket’ and they asked if the club could help.
Heaven said: “His journey to Chichester is one of pure determination and heartache, having fled Afghanistan for the fear of being made to join the Taliban or following the fate of his father.”
Ezaz’s father was killed by the Taliban. His mother made him and his brother flee to avoid this fate or forced to join the Taliban.
Ezaz cannot say the exact age he left his home, only that he was very young. From what his new friends in Chichester can tell, he was probably 14 or 15, with his journey to the UK taking him two or three years.
Ezaz walked from Afghanistan to Pakistan then to Iran, where he travelled through the mountains. He went days without food or water or sleep and said he would have died had he not found a village with people who gave him water and food.
His route took him through Turkey, Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary, Austria, Italy and France, where he spent nine months in the camps by the Eurotunnel.
He struggles to recount much of his journey as he finds it too upsetting.
He got across to the UK by lorry, was picked up at Dover and allocated to the children’s services department at Gatwick, where he was handed over to West Sussex CC’s leaving care department and housed in the Chichester Foyer.
Heaven said: “As we only became aware of Ezaz at the back end of the season, he was not able to play any matches but was able to attend a training session. We could see Ezaz had played cricket in Afghanistan and was a natural talent. His technique was very raw but he was very keen to watch others and learn.
“Chichester Priory Park have strong links with Goodwood CC and as Goodwood continued to play on Sundays through September, this allowed Ezaz to get on the pitch.
“In his first game he scored six and took two catches. Not only would Ezaz need to adapt to living in England, he would also need to adapt to the relatively-slow green English wickets, very different to the concrete-like wickets of Afghanistan.”
The end of the 2015 season came about, signalling a long winter of no cricket for Ezaz. He kept himself busy by enrolling at Worthing College, where he was learning to speak English three days a week.
Chichester started training in January at indoor facilities at Seaford College. Ezaz by now had a second-hand kit which ha been donated to him from people around the club.
Luckily Chichester were able to enrol Ezaz as a non-overseas player. This means he is eligible for first-team matches if selected. Ezaz continues to play for Goodwood CC in their Sunday friendly matches. Both clubs agreed to make him an honorary member.
Heaven said: “As an asylum seeker, Ezaz is not able to work, paid or voluntary, so has no money. His English is improving all the time, though it is very limited. Despite this, he has integrated with his team-mates at the clubs very well and is picking up some cricket banter along the way.
“His cricket continues to improve and he has produced some remarkable innings, especially so when taking into account he has been observing Ramadan, which involves no eating and drinking during daylight hours.
“Two weeks ago when playing for Goodwood, he was part of a record-breaking partnership of 252 with Matt Geffen versus Arundel. Ezaz scored 135. He followed this up with 95 last Sunday versus Pagham.”
Team-mates at Chichester-based financial services company Marchwood IFA have supported Ezaz with new kit and equipment from local retailer Game Set & Match.
Heaven said: “We are confident he will remain part of the strong cricket community in Chichester for many years to come.”
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