As a child playing on the streets of Pakistan, and later as a refugee in Sri Lanka, cricket was central to Ahmed Ehtisham’s life. Now, he loves to play, he helps to secure the future.
Where Ahmed grew up in Pakistan, cricket was rare and clubs were expensive and inaccessible.
“We put swings in the street and played with a cheap bat and a soft ball. I played with children, neighbors and friends in the street.”
He created small teams and began playing against other teams in a silent division.
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In India, watching and playing cricket is an all-consuming passion, he said.
“Cricket is a celebration for us; The World Cup is a festival.”
His family doesn’t have a television, but when there was a big match, the neighbor would put his television outside on the street so everyone could watch, he said.
The Ahmed family are Ahmadiyya Muslims; a religious minority sect that is not officially recognized in Pakistan.
Their faith meant the family experienced discrimination and persecution. At school, Ahmed ignored his teachers, and as he grew up, he was ostracized by his peers. He became sad and depressed.
When he was 17, Ahmed’s mum encouraged him to leave her home with his older siblings and join his older sister in Sri Lanka, in the hope that a refugee could be resettled elsewhere in the world.
“We don’t have enough money for the whole family, so I went alone. It was difficult, my father died when I was 4, and I was very close to my mum. But she sent me to a better future.”
For the five years Ahmed waited in Sri Lanka for immigration, he turned to cricket. When he got back home, he put together a silent network of teams that would be played by the big clubs – despite some opposition.
“We are trying to increase interest, people come to their heads, they told us not to go out to play.”
When he settled in New Zealand, Ahmed didn’t know much about the country – except for one reason, of course.
“We know about the New Zealand opium macho team,” he said.
Ahmed and his sister arrived in Nelson last year, part of a group of 250 or ahmadiyya Muslims. In the early days he was confused here. “It was a sight,” he said. “This doesn’t seem right.”
He said that he loved the sport even apart from it. “I was about to leave cricket. I thought, I have no community in Nelson, no one will help me here.”
However, when Ahmed mentioned his love for the multicultural sport of Nelson Tasman, they connected him with the Nelson Cricket Association.
Suddenly, a new Kiwi community was available.
“[The NCA] … made me feel that I am a member of this city and this country. The way they treat me sometimes on the field is unexpected. This is a very beautiful feeling. “
On the field, Ahmed is all rounder and develops a similar pitch. Despite his short time in Nelson, Ahmed found work with the Red Cross, a youth leader in his community. He has also partnered with others from the Sri Lankan and Pakistani community to join the local box office, and next month will take part in the first Multicultural Cricket Day, inspired by the success of this year’s Multicultural Football tournament.
“We’re lucky,” Ahmed said. “I have a job, I play cricket, all my wishes come true.”
The first Multicultural Cricket Day on 12 April welcomes cricketers of all backgrounds and levels. Register now for the 6-a-side, 12-a-side games that will take place at Victory Square. Email: Dustin@nelsoncricket.org.nz