CRICKET: Focus on the only Amiens cricket club

Twenty young people from different backgrounds founded the first and only cricket club in Amiens.

A childhood rocked by cricket

Bearers of rich and varied cultures, these refugees from Pakistan, Afghanistan, or even Bangladesh are passionate about cricket. Imran Shinwari, club president, and Zabiullah Safi, team captain, have practiced this discipline since their childhood. In Afghanistan, these two players weren’t playing with actual cricket balls, made of hard cork covered in leather, as we might think. Zabiullah says: When I was in Afghanistan, I played there in the street with tennis balls, or plastic balls. But when I came to Holland, I saw people playing cricket with better, harder balls. So that’s when I started playing it a lot, for 5 years « . As for Imran, it was from a very young age,  » between 8 and 10 years old“, that he started playing cricket. A discipline thus particularly rooted in their lives and habits.

How is cricket played?

During a cricket match, two teams of eleven players oppose each other. It is played on an oval-shaped grass pitch, in the center of which is an area surrounded by a wooden structure at each end. This is called the  » ticket office « . A match can last, depending on the form played, from a few hours to several days.

A match is divided into several rounds. One of the teams tries to score runs while the other tries to prevent it by eliminating the two opposing batsmen. The ball is thrown in the direction of a wicket by one of the players on the pitch and these batsmen can score runs by switching positions when the ball is in play. To prevent this, the opposing team can destroy a wicket with the ball on the throw.

A surprise: the absence of a cricket club in Amiens

Arriving in France in 2016, Imran spent eight days in Paris before being transferred to Calais. A year later, the social worker who looked after him showed him around Amiens:  » I liked it. The city is pretty, especially the downtown area. I liked it a lot, so I wanted to stay here « . Since then, he still feels just as good there and he has been working in the restaurant business for a year.  » I like. But at first it was too complicated for me, as I didn’t know how to speak French very much. I must have submitted around fifty CVs to the agency. I did an internship at the restaurant and they told me that since I was doing well, I could stay « .

“However, it is the second sport in the world. The first is football, and the second is cricket.

Arriving in Amiens, he was surprised to see the absence of a cricket club, whereas in Afghanistan it is a national sport.  » There are people who don’t know cricket, others who do. But here, cricket is not like football. However, it is the second sport in the world. The first is football, and the second is cricket (Editor’s note: Estimates speak of 2 billion followers). On this, Zabiullah adds that cricket is indeed famous in France, that many people know how to play it. But the reputation of cricket is less substantial in Amiens.

Match against the Saint-Omer team (SOCCS) / ©Amiens Cricket Club
Imran Shinwari, match against the Saint-Omer team (SOCCS) / ©Amiens Cricket Club

The birth of the Amiens Cricket Club

Thanks to the Amiénois Solidarity Network, Nathalie Szlamowicz, treasurer of the club, was able to have the opportunity to give French lessons to exiled people. Imran, and other team players, were among them. By learning about their passion for cricket, she and Nicolas Parguel, club secretary, then invested a lot to support them and help them found the Amiens Cricket Club in December 2017. Imran is grateful: “ Nathalie and Nicolas really helped me a lot « . Thanks to them, their kindness and their admirable commitment, he was able to take over the presidency of the club.

As for Zabiullah, who left Afghanistan in 2010, he has now been in France for two years now: France is a beautiful country. I had heard about it from friends. I couldn’t stay in the Netherlands, so I came to France. I was first in Paris, then I was transferred to Amiens « . Arriving in the Amiens metropolis, this player with a strong experience in the discipline quickly carried out research on the Internet to find out if cricket clubs existed. He thus fell on the Amiens Cricket Club.  » I contacted Nathalie and she gave me information about the club « . Then, this is how he joined the club.

Zabiullah was later voted the team captain by the players. The experience he acquired in the Netherlands makes him an excellent cricketer:  » I am happy with my team. When I came here, some players were new, and others had played before. They decided to make me captain because I had a lot of cricketing experience. I was really happy « .

Providence and its wonderful gesture for the club

Cricket ground / © Amiens Cricket Club
Cricket pitch / ©Amiens Cricket Club

It should be noted that it was not easy to obtain a training place for the players. At first, they trained at the Parc de la Hotoie. The club has submitted a request to the town hall in the hope of having access to a place allowing the team to train in good conditions. The request was unfortunately refused.

A new opportunity has opened up for the club. Last year, the Catholic school La Providence, sensitive to the situation of the players, then made available to the club a rugby field and a gymnasium and thus became its first official partner. Imran is delighted: There now, we have real land at Providence, and that’s good « .

For a team participating in the Hauts-de-France Regional Championship and the Coupe de France, having the opportunity to train on real ground is essential. This ground does not have a track regulated especially for the cricket, but it confers a formidable chance for these players to practice the discipline under better conditions. A place much more comfortable and more suited to the practice of cricket than the Parc de la Hotoie.

Participation in Championships each year

The Amiens Cricket Club is very recent, but you should know that many players have solid cricket experience. Thus, they were quickly ready to participate in the Regional Championship of Hauts-de-France. In the summer, training takes place at the Stade de la Providence, and when winter comes around, the players train in the gymnasium. Zabiullah explains that: The competitions have just ended. Cricket is a sport that cannot be practiced in winter, because it cannot be played in the rain or in the cold. So the seasons start around April, or June, until September « .

Last year, during the Regional Championship of Hauts-de-France, the club reached the semi-finals. And the same goes for this year, with a defeat against Saint-Omer. But the team captain does not despair and believes in everyone’s abilities: « This year, we will try to become more efficient. When the Championship arrives, everyone wants to win. We try to do our best. But even if we would like to win, we also want above all to have fun with everyone, to have a good time, just to be together. So it doesn’t matter if we lose or if we win. But we still want to do our best to win the Championships. For Amiens! »

Imran Shinwari (April 2018) / © Amiens Cricket Club
Imran Shinwari (April 2018) / ©Amiens Cricket Club

Support needed to grow the club

Nathalie recalls that this project would not have been possible without the help of solidarity volunteers. And even today, the support of others is necessary to continue to allow this club, and its players, to flourish even more. A vector of integration, the club has become essential to the day-to-day and personal development of players and aims for both sporting and social objectives.

With regard to the sporting aspect, initially, the objective is to continue to develop the practice of competitions by forming high-performance teams. This involves improving training conditions and the means of transport to get to the competition venues.

Indeed, training is essential for improving the performance of the team. They contribute to the physical and moral well-being of the players, to the development of their physical and tactical skills and in particular to the creation of group cohesion. And for transport, it is namely the registration of a team in the Regional Championship requires
significant financial, material, logistical and human resources that the club lacks.

In particular, players will have to register for referee and scorer training since the Regional Championship regulations require clubs to provide a referee and a scorer.

Regarding the social aspect, the primary objective is to make the club a real tool for social integration for the players. For the most part refugees, and for other asylum seekers, Nathalie explains:  » These are people who come from afar, who must adapt to our practices, to our plan for the organization of associative and civic life. Being active in a sports club gives them the opportunity to exist, to integrate and in particular to practice French « . The Amiens Cricket Club thus presents itself as a vector of social ties, integration through sport and civic and solidarity actions.

Finally, the club wishes to introduce as many people as possible to this little-known sport in Amiens by organizing sessions to discover and present cricket. « Last year, we were able, thanks to the players, to animate discovery sessions. We started at Providence, with primary and secondary school students. It was an opportunity to cross two disciplines: sport and English. Indeed, since the captain of the team, Zabiullah, speaks very good English, there were small times voluntarily in English « . Nearly 250 students from the establishment, between CM1 and 5ème, were able to benefit from this discovery.
On Wednesday July 3, the Amiens Cricket Club also took part in a day with the leisure centers of Amiens Métropole. Nearly 200 children were then able to discover this sport thanks to the players who were enormously involved. The advantage of these types of actions is that it can promote both cricket and « Living better together« .

Amiens Cricket Club vs Creil Cricket Club (April 2018) / © Amiens Cricket Club
Amiens Cricket Club vs Creil Cricket Club (April 2018) / ©Amiens Cricket Club

The club and its virtues on the players

The Amiens Cricket Club is first of all, for the players, the means to practice this discipline that they like so much, to improve and share their passion. But other elements, sometimes more personal, come into play.

Zabiullah confides in the powerful bonds that have been created with the members of the club: “ We play like family, like friends. We really have fun when we’re together and Imran discusses the morale benefits that come with the club: Life is not easy when we don’t have our family. We are all alone. It’s not easy. So cricket helps to get out of the house, to see friends and it’s good for your health « . Indeed, most of the players are refugees, or asylum seekers. Thus, the training sessions make it possible to structure the daily lives of these young people, to allow them to flourish by living their passion, and to support them morally.

Angelique Guenot

Photo credits: © Amiens Cricket Club

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