Out Of The Ashes

Out Of The Ashes


Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

This is the inspiring and entertaining tale of the Afghan National Cricket team. On the face of it, it's another underdog tale, but there's more than optimism here. Coach, founder, and brother to the opening batsman Taj Malik is a force to be reckoned with. When he tells the camera that "the solution to all the [world's] problems... is cricket," it's easy to believe him.

His dedication drives the team, calling it into being from his experiences in the refugee camps in Pakistan after the Soviet invasion. As the Americans and the British move in, so too do men like Taj and his team return, and with them the hopes of the nation. The Cricket Board of Afghanistan is not a large organisation, indeed, he seems a nice guy, but he has high expectations.

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An embassy staffer describes their style as unsophisticated, and in truth it's a muscular strain of cricket, but when it kicks in it's all fours and sixes - hugely entertaining. Their progress through the qualifying stages of the Cricket World Cup is neither smooth nor boring, and the end, such as it is, is genuinely satisfying. Cricket has a history in Afghanistan dating back to 1879, but it's safe to say that there have been some interruptions.

In the course of the film the Afghans take on a host of nations, have highs, lows, encounters with the West that leave them curious: a sighting on a beach in Jersey has them asking if that was "a dog or a bear"; we see them swimming in a sea for the first time in Tanzania; the tears in Taj's eyes as his team win, lose, fight, persist, resist...

This was originally commissioned for the BBC Storyville strand. Its producers are apparently hoping for a cinematic release, and this film is deserving - it's hard to convey just how amazing the team's journey is, how much is invested in them. The scenes in Afghanistan are stark and affecting, those elsewhere illustrate just how much the world can differ - uniting it all, cricket. It's hard to think of a common factor other than the sport between Japan, Singapore, Nepal, Jersey, Tanzania, Hong Kong, Uganda, the Cayman Islands, Argentina and Cayman, and even then it's unlikely to be football. While there are upsets and tantrums aplenty in the current FIFA World Cup, the Afghan team retain a bravery that's commendable.

This is a delightful little film - as it involves such a long period of time, it's hard to identify any single one of Albone, Knott, Martens and Waxler as a particular talent, but as an ensemble, indeed, a team themselves, they have produced a film with moments of striking beauty, compassion, and more than a few sporting thrills. It's not too much of a spoiler to say that both teams do well - the film opens with Afghanistan at the 2010 ICC World Twenty20 tournament, with the commentator explaining that they have earned it. In explaining how the Afghan team achieved that success, all those involved have done so themselves.

Reviewed on: 22 Jun 2010
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The story of the unexpected rise and rise of the Afghan cricket team.
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Director: Lucy Martens, Leslie Knott, Timothy Albone

Year: 2010

Runtime: 90 minutes

Country: UK


EIFF 2010

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