Former England captain Adam Hollioake says he would return to Kabul “in a heartbeat” despite feeling the blast when a suicide bomber blew himself up just yards from a Twenty20 tournament in the Afghan capital.
Hollioake, who is coaching one of six teams in Afghanistan’s domestic Shpageeza Cricket League, heard a “loud bang” three overs into the second innings of the match between his Bost Defenders and rivals Mis-e-Ainak Knights on September 13.
“I thought it was a big firecracker or something,” the Australian-born Hollioake told AFP this week as his players warmed up for their semi-final match.
“But then when we had the after-effect… I could feel the vibration of the blast go through my body.
“When I saw a couple of the players… actually sprinting off the pitch I realised it was serious.”
Three people including a policeman were killed and five others were wounded when the suicide bomber detonated himself at a police checkpoint just outside the Kabul International Cricket Stadium where hundreds of spectators were watching the game.
No one inside the cricket ground was wounded in the attack claimed by the Islamic State’s local Khorasan province affiliate and play was only briefly interrupted, highlighting how depressingly familiar such assaults have become in the war-weary country.
“It was one large blast so I didn’t feel like we were under attack but obviously I didn’t know so I had to be cautious,” said Hollioake, who had been in the changing room with his substitute fielders, assistant coach and manager when the attack happened about “100 metres” away.
– ‘I didn’t want to walk out’ –
The explosion on day three of the tournament rattled foreign players, coaches and commentators unused to such attacks and some left Afghanistan in fear of their safety — including the three foreigners playing for the Bost Defenders.
But Hollioake decided to stay after receiving assurances from Afghan President Ashraf Ghani that security for the foreign visitors would be tightened.
“I didn’t want to just walk out on the job,” said Hollioake whose younger brother Ben was tragically killed in a car accident in the Australian city of Perth in 2002, cutting short his own international cricketing career.
“At the end of the day the security worked.”
Hollioake credits the explosion for galvanising his players who had been struggling in the early matches of the 12-day tournament.
“We weren’t doing so well before that, we lost all our international players, but the local players have stood up and we’ve lifted our game,” Hollioake said.
“Now we find ourselves in the semi-final.”
Despite his close encounter with the sort of deadly violence that has killed record numbers of Afghan civilians this year, Hollioake said he would “love to come back” to help Afghanistan where cricket is making a stunning revival.
The country was catapulted into the elite club of Test nations in June and made their landmark Lord’s debut the following month.
“I think within 10 years these guys could be top six in the world, they’ve got that much talent,” he said.
“I really believe the talent and passion is here in this country.”