Beacons of light for USA cricket’s future!
By John L. Aaron
The contrast between good and evil is never more visible than when it manifests itself in such a way, that it grabs your attention and is easily defined.
This story is not so much about the dark evil political cloud that currently envelops the sport of cricket in the USA, but more importantly about two shining stars that gives tremendous hope to overshadowing such doom and gloom.
Omar, 17 and Abdullah, 13 are the Afridi brothers; American citizens by nationality, cricket by nature. Born to Pakistani parents Sarah and Arshad Afridi, the boys have a younger brother Ali, 8, who is a budding batsman, and a sister Ayesha, 15, whose sporting interest is field hockey.
The Afridi family moved to the US from Scotland, a country where the cricketing stories of Omar and Abdullah Afridi really began to take shape. The senior Mr. Afridi hails from the City of Karachi in Pakistan, but with roots in Khyber Agency, the same area as the attacking right-handed batsman and former Pakistan captain, Shahid Khan Afridi, no relation. However, Mr. Afridi, a keen soccer player introduced his sons to sport at an early age, mainly through fear of them getting involved in activities detrimental to their future and outside the realm of a solid education.
Arshad Afridi says, “Maintaining a good balance between school and sport is very important,” proudly adding, “Both Omar and Abdullah have great attitudes and have done well in both areas.”
Muhammad Omar Afridi
Arshad Afridi was an employee of a major international oil company when he moved his family to Aberdeen, Scotland in 2004. With Omar and Abdullah, two budding cricketers seeking to grow their game, it was not long before Omar then 10, was playing Under-12 cricket for Cricket Scotland President’s XI. He would go on to represent Scotland at the Under-13 and Under-15 levels. At the Under-15 level Omar Afridi played in the European championship in Holland, and in 2011, the right-hand batsman was named Scotland’s Under-17 Player-of-the-Year.
Born January 1, 1995, the very talented No. 3 batsman actually started out as a medium pacer, but quickly shifted his focus to batting while on teams with much older players. Described by his dad as being very strong technically, Omar admires Test players such as Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid, both excellent mental companions for many aspiring young batsmen. The exciting young player was picked up for Scotland’s national cricket training camp shortly before his father moved back to the United States last September, this time as the COO of a major steel fabricating and pre-cast concrete company. It was a bit discombobulating for the Afridi brothers at the time as both their games were beginning to take shape under Cricket Scotland’s robust youth training program, with every possibility of them representing Scotland at the senior international level.
Chatting with the Afridi boys, gave me a greater sense of purpose, to see the sport of cricket succeed in this country, if only for players such as Omar and Abdullah. Not only because the brothers have great attitudes and the skill-sets necessary to succeed, but they are both articulate and focused in describing their future. According to Omar, “I wouldn’t give up cricket for anything.” This, coming from a young man who was tops in his class and aced eight subjects at the General Certificate in Secondary Education (GCSE) level. The GCSE course work is an academic qualification awarded in a specified subject, and is generally taken in a number of subjects by 16 year-old students in England, Wales and Ireland.
The attacking batsman usually bats at No. 3, but relishes opening the batting for his team, “…so as to get more batting,” as he described his usual anxiety to get out to the middle and bat. He says he started out as a bowler, because there were not enough opportunities to bat, so he bowled most of the time. As he matured along the way while in Scotland, he developed his batting and has opened the batting for Scotland’s Under-17. He has made significant contributions with the willow to the Scottish Under-17 team while playing against English County teams. Last year, he had a season high inning score of 134 against Huntingdonshire, and an overall season average of 54.00 runs.
Stoneywood-Dyce’s captain George Ninan commenting on the then Under-15 Omar Afridi’s batting performance to the Aberdeen Press and Journal said, “Omar is a star in the making and has great potential,” emphasizing, “Omar is a real talent.”
Omar Afridi was not even aware that he had won Scotland’s 2011 Under-17 Player-of-the-Year award, because he had already relocated to the USA. He said he didn’t believe at first, until he actually saw the e-mail confirming he was the awardee. Omar had been called to trials for the Scotland Under-19 squad for the ICC World Cup, but unfortunately he was already headed for the USA, because of his father’s change in jobs.
The younger of the two budding teenage cricketers, 13 year-old Abdullah is also a soccer player at the striker position, but loves cricket and started out as a left-arm medium pacer who now bowls off-spin. Initially coached by his dad, Abdullah played in the Scotland Grades league, and at the ripe age of 13 was adjudged Scotland’s Under-18 Bowler-of-the-Year, whilst being recognized as the league’s leading wicket-taker for the 2011 season.
Last May, Abdullah had match figures of 5 for 17 against Ellon C.C. in the Scotland Grade 3 tournament, while playing for Stoneywood-Dyce/Queens Cross’ senior team. He has been a very successful off-spin bowler, taking three or more wickets in several matches, including a hat-trick against 2nd Banchory last June and impressing his coaches along the way. He represented the North Regional Development Center (NRDC) XI in Cricket Scotland’s Regional Development festival last August. That tournament featured Under-15 players in a three-day cricket festival against teams looking to impress Scotland’s national Under-15 selectors.
Among his favorite international players are Sachin Tendulkar, Ricky Ponting, and Rahul Dravid. When asked what he admired most about Tendulkar, Abdullah replied, “His (Tendulkar’s) love of the game and his mental attitude towards batting.”
Stoneywood-Dyce’s senior club player/coach Jan Stander’s only worry shortly before Abdullah left Scotland for the USA was, “Abdullah may decide to pursue another sport as he gets older,” adding, “he is a left-arm seamer with a great attitude. He is destined for bright things, but he is also a very good footballer too, so we will have to see how that career progresses.”
Cricket administrators in the USA would be best advised to encourage the young man to become a part of the USA national Under-19 cricket team, as soon as possible, and before he considers trying out for soccer in America.
In a USA State of Mind
Family relocations, changing schools, making new friends, learning new routes, and generally getting acquainted with a new living environment, are never easy to navigate for some adults, more so teenagers like Omar and Abdullah, but navigate they did. Their GPS was the sport of cricket and it was not long after arriving in the USA, that their compass led them to Krish Prasad, New York’s Regional Representative on the USA Cricket board that referred them to Clifford Hinds. A former Youth Development Officer with the Government of Jamaica, Hinds, 67, is a man with a mission and a passion for cricket. He’s barely affiliated to any league, region or academy, but has an undying passion for the sport and the desire to see young cricketers succeed at all levels.
Ironically, it was Hinds, along with Krish Prasad and Gary Nascimento who were the trailblazers for youth cricket in 1999, forming a New York Under-25 team. In many ways that team was the catalyst for several of Hinds’ initiatives around the development of youth players. One of those initiatives was the Tri-State cricket organization that has been the bedrock of developing youth players in New York over the past five years, in addition to the formidable Lynx XI – USA’s 2011 national women’s cricket champions, coached by Linden Fraser.
Throughout the years, Clifford Hinds has helped mold such USA senior and Under-19 national players as Barrington Bartley, George Adams, Andre Kirton, Azzurdeen “Andy” Mohamed, and Akeem Dodson, to name a few. Several of the players who have passed through the hands of Clifford Hinds are currently playing for Atlantis C.C. in the Eastern American Cricket Association league and Pioneer C.C. in the Metropolitan District Cricket Association league.
This year, Hinds has assembled a team titled New York Youth Cricket Club, with players between the ages of 14 and 20. As the team’s manager, Hinds will be ably assisted by former Guyana national players Linden Fraser and Milton Pydanna as coaches. The youth team with several exciting players including Omar and Abdullah Afridi will play in the American Cricket League, and against much older players.
In three practice matches this year, and playing for the New York Youth Cricket Club, Omar Afridi has scored 52 not out (3x6s and 4x4s) against Atlantis C.C., 34 (2x4s) vs. Middlesex C.C. and 52 not out (1×6 and 7x4s) vs. Queens United C.C., with such a healthy pre-season average, the sky is hardly the limit for this player now emerging on the American cricket scene. In the recent match against Queens United, Omar also demonstrated his skills with the gloves behind the wicket.
Currently a junior at Hopewell Valley Central High School in Pennington, NJ, Omar Afridi, not only has his sights set on representing the USA in a future ICC Cricket World Cup, but winning that championship.
Younger brother Abdullah Afridi, a seventh-grader at Timberlane Middle School, also in Pennington, NJ has dual goals; that of being a professional cricketer in the USA, while pursuing a business career in the manufacturing industry. An avid fan of South African right-hand batsman A.B. de Villiers, Abdullah admires the attitude that the Test-player brings to the sport.
The young cricketer enjoys math and the sciences and says his mind-set when bowling is to restrict the opposing batsmen from scoring, at all times. With a penchant for math, he would be on top of his game in minimizing a batsman scoring off each and every one of his deliveries.
With mentors such as Clifford Hinds, the Afridi brothers need only concentrate on their game on the field, while shooting for the stars despite every dark cloud that hangs over USA cricket. It will all become clear one day, and hopefully players such as Omar and Abdullah Afridi will be right there to proudly wear the red, white and blue of this nation.
In the stands would be two very proud parents; Sarah and Arshad Afridi, as it should be, always.