It means a lot to me to play cricket for Germany, says Afghan-born refugee Muslim Yar

Leg spinner, who arrived in European country as one of 250,000 Afghan refugees in 2016, rose through ranks to play in T20 World Cup Qualifier

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When asked exactly what representing Germany at cricket means to him, Muslim Yar unconsciously adjusts his red cap with the black eagle crest. He puffs out his chest, across which “Deutschland” is picked out in red letters on a black shirt. Most noticeably, he wears a broad, proud smile.

“It is my country,” he says. “I wished a lot that I could play for Afghanistan, but it could not happen.

“I love cricket. I got a chance in Germany. When I arrived, I found some clubs and after that, slowly, slowly I have made my way through to the German national team.

“It means a lot for me to represent Germany. The country has already given me a lot. It is like my country now.”

Muslim arrived in Germany, via Turkey, six years ago during the so-called “long summer of migration” which saw over 250,000 Afghan refugees admitted to the country.

He has not been back to the country of his birth since. Which means six years without seeing his family, other than on the small-screen devices used for Skype or FaceTime – or, in the case of his brother, on the television.

With his age officially registered as 27, Sharafuddin Ashraf is approximately five years older than Muslim. To say the younger brother looks up to him is an understatement.

He is - like Muslim - a left-arm spinner, after all. And a good one, too. Sharafuddin has played 29 times for Afghanistan, including at the T20 World Cup in the UAE last year, when he was summoned as the replacement for retiring captain Asghar Afghan. All of which makes him a mine of expertise for his doting brother.

“I talked to him before our first game,” said Muslim, during the T20 World Cup Qualifier in Oman this week.

“He gave me some tips, told me where to put my fielders and how to bowl, and about the conditions because he has played a lot in Oman. His experience was good for me.”

Germany's Muslim Yar during the playoff match against Canada. Subas Humagain for The National

This week, Muslim’s family will have had the chance to see him in action, too. Or at least for as much time as they were permitted by the faltering livestream of the matches from Muscat.

Germany lost four of their five games in the competition, but, according to the UAE captain Ahmed Raza “this is only the beginning for German cricket,” and “it has massive potential to shine at the top level”.

Not least because of the skills imported by the likes of Muslim. According to UN Refugee Agency figures, 147,994 Afghan refugees lived in Germany in 2020. The number is lower than the influx after 2015 because of factors including forced and voluntary returns to Afghanistan, as well as onward migration to new countries.

Afghans have helped propel the Germany team to a level they had rarely hinted at reaching before. And it means they have had an unlikely cheer squad in south Asia, too.

“When there is peace, I will go back to visit my family,” Muslim said.

“They miss me a lot. I spoke to them before the games, and told them I had a match and asked for them to pray for me. They said they prayed for me.

“I told them it was live and they could watch on FanCode. But internet is not so good in Afghanistan. They followed on cricinfo, and they sent me a message saying: ‘You lost again!’

“But they are very proud of me. The thing is, in Germany, not many people know about cricket. If they did, they would be proud of us as well.”

Muslim Yar of Germany bowls against Canada. Subas Humagain for The National

The German side is made up of roofers, chefs, students and a few ex-professionals, who can only think about training for cricket after finishing their day jobs. All of which makes the fact they challenged all of the sides they faced in the Qualifier, including UAE, all the more impressive.

“We have been here to learn and enjoy the experience of playing against such sides,” said Venkatraman Ganesh, who is an IT professional when he is not captaining Germany at cricket.

“Ireland are a Full Member, a Test-playing nation. There is nothing bigger than that. That is enough motivation for the boys to fight hard.”

Muslim is an apprentice engineer, although that is not his ultimate career aspiration.

“We would like to be professional players,” he said. “We want to play like this because we love the game. If we play more, we can be better than we are now.

“At the moment we are part-time. We go to our job before we play cricket. A couple of years ago, UAE was also like that.

"Now they are professionals, just playing cricket. It is our dream that one day we will be like that.”

Updated: February 26, 2022, 4:08 AM