ATHENS: In a barren Athens parking lot, young Pakistanis get in position for a game of cricket. On one end of the dust-covered concrete is a trash can; on the other, a pile of rocks. That is their pitch, and those are its wickets.
In football-loving Greece, cricket is an alien concept. But for its migrants from Pakistan, one of the world’s most cricket-crazy nations, it is a way of life.
On Sundays, a growing community of street cricketers travels across the capital to the unlikeliest locations, from car parks to abandoned industrial grounds, engaging in tape-ball cricket – an informal version of the game invented in Pakistan, played using a tennis ball wrapped in electrical tape.
With the Cricket World Cup under way, they compete in local tape-ball tournaments, and homes and restaurants are abuzz with fans.
“I love cricket. I’m crazy for cricket. I’m 30 years old and I’m playing for 20 years,” said Awais Mughal, a delivery worker who arrived in Greece a decade ago.
Dressed in the green jersey of his Athens team, Mughal and more than a dozen of his countrymen gathered in his apartment on a sweltering Sunday morning to watch Pakistan defeat South Africa over bottles of chilled water and soft drinks.
“In my country, whenever I go, I play all day,” Mughal said. “In Greece we play only on Sundays because we work six days a week.”
About 50,000 Pakistanis live in Greece, the embassy estimates, many of them laborers in fields or factories. Others own shops or restaurants.
“Cricket is in the genes of the people from the subcontinent,” said Yawar Abbas, the embassy’s charges d’affaires in Athens.
In Greece, the sole cricket ground is on Corfu, dating from the days when the Ionian islands were under British rule in the 19th century.
In Athens, where most migrants live, they resort to playing informally without proper gear.
“Many people play cricket here but we have no grounds in Athens,” said Mehdi Khan Choudhry, a Pakistani former player in Greece’s national cricket team who has been living in Greece since 1993.
His home is adorned with trophies won over the years. A photograph shows him posing with a large Pakistani flag during a cricket match at the 2004 Athens Olympics.
Choudhry, a mechanical engineer and cricket coach, has long campaigned for a ground in Athens and wants to open a cricket academy.
Beyond the enjoyment the sport brings, he said, it helps forge camaraderie with migrants from other cricket-playing nations including Afghanistan, Bangladesh and even India, Pakistan’s archrival on and off the pitch.
“When we stay and play together, you know there is good relations.”