ORGANISATION took months of top secret talks, from the highest ranks of the Army in Helmand Province to the cream of English cricket – and Operation Breathlesshush was conducted by commanders behind closed doors, with every aspect planned with military precision.
Well, almost. This week, the first ever cricket tournament between the Afghan National Army (ANA) and a handpicked UK Armed Forces team took place at Camp Bastion in a move to promote unity, amid a tide of violence following the revelation that US troops had dumped copies of the Koran at an airbase incinerator.
However, the Army could not prepare for one factor – the UK side getting trounced.
The tournament took place on a dusty, rock-strewn cricket pitch surrounded by armed guards at the ANA base of Camp Shorabak, attached to Bastion.
And despite the Army’s top cricketers in Helmand Province being flown in to play, the Afghan team – which reportedly featured several ringers from the national side – secured an historic victory in front of a crowd of hundreds.
Among the UK cricketers was Territorial Army Second Lieutenant Tim Miller, of Staveley, North Yorkshire, who left his job as a supply teacher to fight on the frontline.
“After the Koran burning, there was a bit of touch and go because of security around the event,” said the 30-year-old, who is attached to the Queen’s Royal Hussars in Lashkar Gah as a battle captain.
“It has been a very tense time, but this has been a huge boost for everybody involved. The main thing I have had to worry about is the Afghan bowling.
“It is fair to say the crowd weren’t exactly behind us. Whenever they scored there was huge cheering, and when we scored, there was silence.
“I have played for Staveley Cricket Club since I was nine and the wicket here was better than some of the ones in the Nidderdale league. But I have never experienced playing in front of 600 Afghans before.
“This is the first time this event has ever been held and hopefully now it will carry on. I feel as though I have taken part in quite a momentous occasion.”
More than 30 people – including six Nato personnel – have died in uprisings this week, following the discovery of the Koran burning at Bagram airbase.
Days ago, two Nato soldiers were shot dead on a base in nearby Kandahar Province by what it is claimed was an Afghan National Army service member and another attacker in civilian clothing. That incident followed the shooting of two US soldiers by a man wearing Afghan army uniform during protests at a Nato base in Nangarhar province.
Meanwhile, two US officers, reported to be a colonel and a major, were killed by an unknown gunman in the Afghan interior ministry in central Kabul.
In response to the violence, The British embassy in Kabul has temporarily withdrawn all civilian advisers from Afghan government institutions in the capital.
Garry Humphryes, the Army chaplain for 1st Battalion, The Yorkshire Regiment, who was the umpire throughout the tournament, said he hopes the event will help to spread peace in the face of the uprisings.
“When you look at the crowd, for the whole time the tournament took place everybody just forgot we were in Camp Bastion,” he said. “You just need to look at their faces to see that.
“The more we can do to get people together and stop the violence has to be a good thing.”
The event was organised by Lieutenant Colonel Tim Law, of the Royal Artillery, and vice chairman of the Army Cricket Association. Lt Col Law first started planning back in November alongside the English and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) and Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) Lord’s, and had hoped to include members of the national team. He said: “For a few days during this tournament, we have had a vision of a more peaceful future. The English take cricket wherever we go and the British Army has a very long history of introducing the sport across the world. It is just a shame that wherever we go, we end up getting beaten by them. The pitch has been tricky, not that we are blaming it.
He added: “We have got some very good lads here but they did not really live up to expectations.
“There is a lot of scope here for development of this tournament, but first of all we need to bring a better team along next year.”
The Afghan Army team scored 165 and bowled out the British for 77. They and also conquered a team of local interpreters to claim the Twenty20 tournament trophy.