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In pictures: Pakistan's street cricketers bring game to life in Greece

About 50,000 Pakistanis live in Greece, the embassy estimates, many of them are labourers in fields or factories.
Updated Jul 05, 2019 11:27am

In a barren Athens parking lot, young Pakistanis get in position for a game of cricket.

On one end of the dust-covered concrete is a trash can; on the other, a pile of rocks. That is their pitch, and those are its wickets.

A Pakistani man living in Greece is ready to bat a ball during a tape-ball cricket game in a parking lot in the Tavros neighbourhood in Athens, Greece on June 29. — Reuters
A Pakistani man living in Greece is ready to bat a ball during a tape-ball cricket game in a parking lot in the Tavros neighbourhood in Athens, Greece on June 29. — Reuters

In football-loving Greece, cricket is an alien concept. But for its migrants from Pakistan, one of the world's most cricket-crazy nations, it is a way of life.

A Pakistani man living in Greece tries to catch the ball during a tape-ball cricket game in a disused parking lot for trucks in an industrial area in Elefsina, Greece on June 30. — Reuters
A Pakistani man living in Greece tries to catch the ball during a tape-ball cricket game in a disused parking lot for trucks in an industrial area in Elefsina, Greece on June 30. — Reuters

On Sundays, a growing community of street cricketers travels across the capital to the unlikeliest locations, from car parks to abandoned industrial grounds, engaging in tape-ball cricket — an informal version of the game invented in Pakistan, played using a tennis ball wrapped in electrical tape.

A Pakistani man living in Greece watches his national cricket team's World Cup game against South Africa in a restaurant in central Athens, Greece on June 23. — Reuters
A Pakistani man living in Greece watches his national cricket team's World Cup game against South Africa in a restaurant in central Athens, Greece on June 23. — Reuters

With the Cricket World Cup underway, they compete in local tape-ball tournaments, and homes and restaurants are abuzz with fans.

Pakistani street cricketer Awais Mughal, 30, (R) watches his national cricket team's World Cup game against South Africa in an apartment in Athens, Greece on June 23. — Reuters
Pakistani street cricketer Awais Mughal, 30, (R) watches his national cricket team's World Cup game against South Africa in an apartment in Athens, Greece on June 23. — Reuters

"I love cricket. I'm crazy for cricket. I'm 30 years old and I'm playing for 20 years," said Awais Mughal, a delivery worker who arrived in Greece a decade ago.

Pakistani men living in Greece watch their national cricket team's World Cup game against South Africa in an apartment in Athens, Greece on June 23. — Reuters
Pakistani men living in Greece watch their national cricket team's World Cup game against South Africa in an apartment in Athens, Greece on June 23. — Reuters

Dressed in the green jersey of his Athens team, Mughal and more than a dozen of his countrymen gathered in his apartment on a sweltering Sunday morning to watch Pakistan defeat South Africa over bottles of chilled water and soft drinks.

"In my country, whenever I go, I play all day," Mughal said. "In Greece we play only on Sundays because we work six days a week."

A Pakistani man living in Greece holds a bat before a tape-ball cricket game in a park in the Agioi Anargyroi suburb in Athens, Greece on June 23. — Reuters
A Pakistani man living in Greece holds a bat before a tape-ball cricket game in a park in the Agioi Anargyroi suburb in Athens, Greece on June 23. — Reuters

About 50,000 Pakistanis live in Greece, the embassy estimates, many of them are labourers in fields or factories. Others own shops or restaurants.

"Cricket is in the genes of the people from the subcontinent," said Yawar Abbas, the embassy's charges d'affaires in Athens.

Pakistani men living in Greece watch a game of tape-ball cricket in a disused parking lot for trucks in an industrial area in Elefsina, Greece on June 30. — Reuters
Pakistani men living in Greece watch a game of tape-ball cricket in a disused parking lot for trucks in an industrial area in Elefsina, Greece on June 30. — Reuters

In Greece, the sole cricket ground is on Corfu, dating from the days when the Ionian islands were under British rule in the 19th century.

In Athens, where most migrants live, they resort to playing informally without proper gear.

Pakistani former Greece national cricket team player Mehdi Khan Choudhry looks on as he watches the Cricket World Cup game between England and India in his apartment in Athens, Greece on June 30. — Reuters
Pakistani former Greece national cricket team player Mehdi Khan Choudhry looks on as he watches the Cricket World Cup game between England and India in his apartment in Athens, Greece on June 30. — Reuters

"Many people play cricket here but we have no grounds in Athens," said Mehdi Khan Choudhry, a Pakistani former player in Greece's national cricket team who has been living in Greece since 1993.

Trophies and awards of Pakistani former Greece national cricket team player Mehdi Khan Choudhry, are displayed in his apartment in Athens Greece on June 30. — Reuters
Trophies and awards of Pakistani former Greece national cricket team player Mehdi Khan Choudhry, are displayed in his apartment in Athens Greece on June 30. — Reuters

His home is adorned with trophies won over the years. A photograph shows him posing with a large Pakistani flag during a cricket match at the 2004 Athens Olympics.

Choudhry, a mechanical engineer and cricket coach, has long campaigned for a ground in Athens and wants to open a cricket academy.

A Pakistani man living in Greece bawls a ball during a tape-ball cricket game in a parking lot in the Tavros neighbourhood in Athens, Greece on June 29, 2019. — Reuters
A Pakistani man living in Greece bawls a ball during a tape-ball cricket game in a parking lot in the Tavros neighbourhood in Athens, Greece on June 29, 2019. — Reuters

Beyond the enjoyment the sport brings, he said, it helps forge camaraderie with migrants from other cricket-playing nations including Afghanistan, Bangladesh and even India, Pakistan's archrival on and off the pitch.

"When we stay and play together, you know there is good relations."