In Sierra Leone, cricket is rising from the ashes of war
Packed with hard red dirt overlooked by a faded scoreboard, Sierra Leone's only cricket oval is worlds away from the lush, carefully grassed grounds typically associated with the game.cricket Updated: Dec 26, 2012 00:12 IST
Packed with hard red dirt overlooked by a faded scoreboard, Sierra Leone's only cricket oval is worlds away from the lush, carefully grassed grounds typically associated with the game.
Muddy water pools around the edges of Kingtom Oval after a downpour, as a rag-tag group of young men, women, and children barely big enough to hold a bat, gather to warm up for cricket practice.
In a football-mad nation, which zealously follows the teams of the English Premier League, cricket has a rich history. Introduced by the British in the late 19th century, the west African nation had a thriving club and schools league until war broke out in 1991.
Kingtom Oval was "well-grassed" in the 1980s, says Beresford Bournes-Coker, chairman of the Sierra Leone Cricket Association.
But during the devastating 11-year conflict which left 120,000 dead and thousands maimed by rebels, the field, which belongs to an adjacent police station, became home to hundreds of refugees looking for safety.
While cricket structures fell apart, the game did not die, and it was the country's wildly popular U-10 Barracks League that "kept the momentum going".
Mostly made of up of policemen's children, the league has provided the majority of the country's cricketers, many of whom in turn joined the force.
While the children's games still whip up the most fervour, it is those who grew up during the war who became members of the under-19 team which in 2009 defied expectations to reach the Cricket World Cup qualifier in Canada.
But, in a massive blow to the team, they were refused visas to participate.
In 2010 Sierra Leone moved up to Africa's Division Two, also that year winning an award from the African Cricket Association for the most improved cricketing standards on the continent.
"Sierra Leone is being branded as the Afghanistan of Africa -- meaning that with nothing we've gone so far," says Bournes-Coker, referring to the war-torn Asian nation's recent successes in international cricket.