Couch Talk 181 (Play)
Guest: Edward Fox and “Archi” Archiwal
Host: Subash Jayaraman
Subash Jayaraman (SJ)– Hello and welcome to Couch Talk. The guests today are Edward Fox, who is an Aussie that moved to the U.S. 24 years ago, and Archiwal, who took to cricket in the Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan, and now lives with Edward Fox through his work with the U.S. Army as a translator in Afghanistan. They talk about the cricketing story that has brought these two very different individuals together from different corners of the world to living under one roof in Wichita, Kansas.
[Help Edward in his efforts by contributing at his Go Fund page]
Welcome to the show, Edward and Archi!
Edward Fox (EF)– Thanks for having us, it is great being here.
SJ– It is my pleasure having you both on! it is a phenomenal cricket journey that has brought the two of you together.
First, I want to begin with you, Edward. You are an Aussie from New South Wales, Grafton I believe. And you came to the United States and settled in – of all the places – Kansas. Can you give a brief synopsis of how you ended up there?
EF– This Kansas girl accosted me at work in Australia. I was living in Brisbane, working in Duty Free. She came and said I was flirting with these New Zealand girls and took too long waiting on them, and that I should take her out to dinner. And the rest is history. I ended up in Kansas 3 years later, 3 kids and married for 25 years.
SJ– When did you get to Kansas?
EF– We met in 1989, and moved over here in January 1990.
SJ– Obviously, the most important job in Australia after the job of the prime minister is that of the captain of the cricket team. So, coming from such a cricketing culture background and moving to Kansas in the early ‘90s, what was it like trying to find cricket?
EF– I figured I would never see cricket again. When I moved here I didn’t even think about cricket except that the family tried to be nice and sent me videos, which were PAL system and wouldn’t play on any VCR in America. So, we had to buy a multi system VCR playing system. I caught up with cricket through videos that family sent over. It wasn’t until 1997 that I happened to have an email contact with somebody out of Tulsa who said there was some cricket club in Wichita. I was like, “Are you crazy?” it mentioned that they all speak Hindi and you probably wouldn’t fit in. I thought, well it was at least nice to know. I might track it down in a couple of years. That was my initial reaction in 1997. But I didn’t do anything for a few more years.
SJ– So, you went on to build your own cricket stadium?
EF– It is a cricket field. We started out with a level piece of ground and threw in a concrete pitch and covered it with outdoor carpet. Like I had grown up with back home, very consistent bounce, low maintenance.
We bought a piece of property in 2002 that had a house on it and 10 acres spare that used to have a tree farm. So, when he left, he took a lot of trees that left a lot of holes in the ground from where he took the trees out. So, we filled those holes, levelled it out and poured the concrete pitch in April 2003 and played the first game in late April or early May. We played only a few games that year. Every year since, we’ve played a ton of games on that pitch.
SJ– I want to talk to you and learn more about the cricket field of dreams.
Let’s bring Archi in. Archi, could you talk about your introduction to cricket and where you picked up on it, your background, and how old you were when you first got into cricket?
Ar– Everybody remembers the Russian attack on our country, Afghanistan. We all moved to Pakistan to a refugee camp. I grew up in a small tent. I remember Imran Khan, Wasim Akram, Aaqib Javed, those people played for Pakistan when I was a kid. We started in the street, with just a small [piece of] wood and ball made with ropes stuck together. We started playing together and called ourselves by the players’ names, like “I am Wasim Akram… I am Aaqib Javed…” “Javed Miandad”. And then Shahid Afridi came in to cricket, and he introduced me to cricket because he was Pashtun like us and we were proud of him. This is how I was introduced to cricket.
But we had nothing at all to play cricket with, in Pakistan, because the things were expensive, especially for us who had no money. We just played with those things and started watching cricket while going to restaurant or hotel that provide teas and stuffs and the game was on their TV. I remember during 1996 World Cup, I was a kid then, when Sri Lanka was playing and Arjuna Ranatunga was on the screen. I knew his name because he was a little bit big for cricket. I watched the final of the 1996 World Cup and slowly I moved to cricket.
And in 2003, when America came to Afghanistan, we went back to Afghanistan to the same situation. I joined the army, got a bit busy and made a little money. I helped other kids buy bats and balls, the American government helped us buy some cricket stuff too. With the hard ball, I only started playing in 2011. I played with some of the national players, like Mirwais Ashraf, he was from Kunduz Province over there. I played with him for a game. In our country, you had to be rich to be in a cricket team. I tried my best, but I didn’t get a chance.
SJ– How old were you during the 1996 World Cup?
Ar– I don’t remember, i think I was 9 years old, a kid. I remember seeing Arjuna Ranatunga when I was watching. It was a new thing for us.
SJ– The 1996 World Cup gets you interested, and later that year Afridi started playing for Pakistan. You played with the tape ball for most of that time?
Ar– Most of the time we played with the taped ball, but before that we actually played just a ball made with ropes, stick things to it and make it hard. Till 2000, we played with it. After 2001, our father got a little bit of money and saved us cash to buy a ball. The tape was expensive, so went to the young people who were playing and throwing their tape away from the balls. We were picking them up and making our own balls and started playing cricket with them.
SJ– You said you moved back to Afghanistan in 2003. Did you have the time to play cricket at all, or were you busy working?
Ar– I had no time, when we went back to Afghanistan, we had nothing. We tried to build our house, and I joined the army to support my family. I was in the army for 3-4 years. I made a little bit of money, invested with my brothers and cousins who loved cricket. They started the same way as me. In 2004 and 2005, I had a little bit of money to buy some stuff and started playing with them again. And then I was introduced to one of the small teams, and I became the captain of the team. That is how I met Mirwais Ashraf.
He was a skinny guy at that time, he is now very big. I never wore a helmet in my life but that was the fastest bowling I had seen in my life. I was scared, too. We had no practice, we had gone to the Province because I thought this was a chance for me to show, I went there and tried my best. I actually got in touch with a lot of players and people who knew cricket. But I had no luck.
SJ– So, you wanted to play cricket in a representative team, but felt you weren’t good enough. so, your idea was to make sure the other kids got the chance?
Ar– I was good enough, but we had no money and no time for practice. When I was making money, I was a soldier, I thought maybe I wasn’t going to be good enough. So, we gave the stuff to the kids I even barely knew. When I was coming back from the vacation, kids came to our house and asked if I could buy them a ball and stuff. I have pictures, my profile picture on Facebook where I give the kids a trophy. I tried my best, and I actually tried for myself to be in the team, to represent my province, but I lost connection.
SJ– Edward, in terms of making the facility and the tools available for others to pursue cricket – which was what Archi was trying to do – and in some sense what you had done, in providing cricket facility. Could you expand more on the facilities that you have there and what has gone into it?
EF– It is interesting because I didn’t initially set out to build a cricket field. We had gone back to Australia for a family vacation in 2002. We were gone for June or July in 2002, it is winter in Australia but still warm enough. The kids ended up with a cricket set there. At that time, Jason, my elder son was 10 and Brandon was 7. We played cricket in the driveway and brought back a lot of memories. Just like you guys play gully cricket in India, it is backyard cricket for us there. We get back to America and my son, Jason has fallen in love with cricket. He asks me if I can show that to his PE teacher.
I grabbed one of the Kanga cricket sets that Cricket Australia was promoting at the time and showed that to the PE teacher, and the PE teacher says, “I have got another PE teacher friend in another school. You go and show them.” I go and show them, and they lead me to another and they lead me to yet another, and so before I know, between late 2002 and 2010, I have shown 60000 kids across 32 schools across 9 school districts how to play cricket. I have created my own brand “Hotshot cricket” and sourced my own equipment through Cricket Australia, the people that they use out of China at that time, to manufacture and ship me sets and I start giving them away and sell them to schools and church groups etc. Now, I am fired up about cricket and working for myself. i have taken time out for myself, going to school, teaching kids, the two weeks at a time for PE classes. I am fired up and want to play some cricket.
I get on and then this email from a guy who told me about a team. I said I want to have my own team. He said there was a league going between Tulsa, Oklahoma, Wichita and Little Rock, Arkansas in late 2002. I found this house – I always wanted to live in a property and build a cricket ground, but it wasn’t possible because I shoved that dream away because I was in America. Now, the dreams up again. We found this house on 5 acres, and thought I would put the cricket ground in the front yard because it is really big on 5 acres. But I come out there and see that there is no way it would fit into 5 acres. I said “I am looking for some land for a sports facility to build up” – because he wouldn’t know what cricket was. He says, “I have got this 10 acres right besides it, would you want to buy it?” I bought it in a package deal – clear out the trees for me. I didn’t know what I was biting on; I bit more than I can chew. I had eaten an elephant, one bite at a time, and kept on chewing. He clears the field.
I tell my wife, “Look, I hadn’t done anything for cricket for years, but in 1999, like you we got dish network and we got the World Cup.” And she saw the Semi Final between Australia and South Africa. My wife, being a Kansas girl was hooked. She was right behind it, my 10 year old loved it. my 7 year old, he would rather play video games. The funny thing is that my 7 year old shows more talent than my 10 year old and myself. That is the way it always goes. So, we started, and I looked around for cricket carpet. I try in North Sports, and realise it costs around 12000 pounds to buy this. This is not going to work. I cleared the land and I get a quote on concrete.
Malcolm Nash – hit for 6 sixes by Sir Gary Sobers, was with Mike Miller of US Junior Cricket at that time. i had been doing some work with them because I started this youth program. I asked them what kind of pitch I should build. “You guys have been around cricket in America for a long time, what do I do?” they said I have to make it 90 foot long and 12 feet wide. That way, as kids are throwing the ball it won’t come off as it is 12 foot pitch instead of a 12 foot pitch, and by making it 90 foot long you don’t have to worry about roughs that come in while pitching in the stumps and the bowling run ups. I told them I have played on few of them where you can see the 6 inches of concrete and you trip over it. That was a great idea; we poured in 90 x 12 and made some holes where the stumps would go and we did that in April 2003, and cost me around $5000. It cost me $1200 on the carpet and another $200 on the glue. So far, it hadn’t been real expensive, other than the cost of the land. For following your passion, I know people are into hunting and boating, 5 grand for following your passion isn’t too bad.
But then we started adding the nets – another 5 grand. And then we built a pavilion, a 30×50 pavilion with AC and satellite TV and for a while we had a stump cam installed, with a little transmitter installed that would transmit to our big screen TV. It was a lot of fun, but all in all probably cost me, including the land, a $130000.
SJ– That is following through on your passion! That is fantastic!
EF– It didn’t happen overnight. The most work happened between 2003 and 2006, to finish up the pavilion and everything. Then, we had the next steps that we had to take.
SJ– Once the facilities that were in place, you created the “World XI”?
EF– We created the Wichita World XI. In most communities, the community tend to stick together. The Gujju guys were in one team, the South Indian guys were in another team, the West Indian guys were in another team. You should see the picture of our first team, there were three Americans that didn’t know how to hold the bat, I had my 10 year old son bowling leg spin, me who had never been a very good cricketer but a passionate one was bowling right arm rubbish and picking up wickets. I was holding up one end like Chris Tavare or Geoff Boycott – that is the way I have been taught cricket. None of this T20 stuff for me, I am a slow plodder. If I can make 36 runs off 60 overs like Gavaskar, I am set. We created the Wichita World XI that was open for any skill level.
SJ– Let’s start to get the story together now. Let’s ask Archi how he got to the United States. Archi, you were working with the Army. How did you get from there to be in a position to being moved to the United States?
Ar- When I was a soldier in the Afghan Army, we had not many Americans with us, it was just two [American] advisors in our team and we ended up in a small town. Two American advisors and 30 Afghan solidiers and I was the only one with a little English skills. Just “How are you?”, “What is your name?” and stuff that we learn in school. I started talking to the people, with hands, a little bit English.
We stayed there for 4-6 months and learnt a little bit more English. My 3 years’ contracts was about to end. The American soldiers were friendly with me because I was the only contact between them and the national Army. I was asked what I am going to do. I told them that I was going to go home after I am done with my contract and start some small business. He told, “Why don’t you be a translator for us?” I said OK. They recommended me, I went and passed the interview. I became a translator for the U.S. Army. I was with them for 4-5 years and then they had a program in 2009 for a special immigrant Visa. When you work with the U.S. Army, your life is endangered directly because they have a lot of enemies over there. And that’s how have lost a lot of family members. In 2014, 24th April, I got my Visa and I land in Wichita.
When I landed in New York, I’d given up on cricket, but I come here by IRC –International Rescue Committee – they rescue people from other countries and provide the facility of living, their first job and start their lives. I was in the class, and they were teaching cultural orientation. They asked me what I like and I told them I liked to play cricket, but thought nobody played cricket here. They said, “No, I think there are teams here and people play cricket.” I wondered, “Really?” “Let me call them” and they called (Edward) and I told him that I want to play cricket. He asks me what I can do. I tell him I can do everything – I love cricket. I can bowl, I can bat, I can field, I am a good wicket keeper. He says, “Oh yeah? I will come and pick you up!” and in the evening time he picked me up. He saw my bowling and everything, and asked if I wanted to play the next day. I said, “Really? Sure!”
He picked me up, drove me to Oklahoma, and I got the first wicket on my second ball of the game. And I ended up with 40 runs or something.
EF– The 40 runs were ridiculous.
Ar– It was my first game. I fell in love with Wichita.
SJ– How did you end up in Wichita? You said you were in New York. How long were you in New York and how did you get to Wichita?
Ar– I wanted to be away from the crowd, I didn’t like cities. So, I told them send to some place with no crowd and people. But, I was not thinking about cricket at all. I was with American soldiers for 5 years, and met maybe 20,000 soldiers and they had no idea about cricket at all. I thought then, that when I go to America, the cricket is gone. I had no idea. Sometime after I land up in New York, I think my cricket career is done. I really wanted to be a cricketer when I was a kid, when I was watching Afridi and those guys playing the brilliant game. I fell in love right away, that was my dream, to be a cricketer. I gave up everything. After a week, I make this call and I started playing cricket again.
SJ– Edward, what was it from your point of view, when you first get a call about this new guy who has been brought over and wants to play cricket? Could you tell us your side of the story, of you meeting Archi?
EF– I get these calls a lot. Normally they are from Pakistan and India. So, you see the code +91, coming from India. “Are you in Kansas?”, that is the first thing. That is not something that we have any say in.
When Archi called, it was hard for me to understand over phone for the first couple of days. so, i had to meet him in person to find out about his story. I am always on the lookout for cricketers. I was one short for a game two days away at Oklahoma, three hour drive away.
So, I go in to Wichita, and our house and ground is 20 minute south of Wichita. I go pick him up and bring him here and put him through his paces and offer to take him to Oklahoma City, and the rest is history. We take him down there and he bats like Afridi, throws the bat at everything. He got 40 off 12 balls or something. It was ridiculous. He walks off and says, “See? I told you I could do it.”I thought to myself I am going to deal with a diva here.
SJ– Which year was this?
EF– This was 2014.
SJ– It has been an year and a half. What has been the relationship between the two of you, on and off the cricket field?
EF– On the cricket field, we argue a little bit about the field placing. I know how to place the field, and he doesn’t, as most fast bowlers don’t know how to place a field in recreational leagues. Actually, no. Archi is pretty good about it. I always tell him that you can’t place a field for bad bowling. So, I tell him, “Archi, don’t bowl bad. If you want a leg side field and you are going to bounce him, okay! If you want an off side field and you are going to keep it up full, great!” Archi is one of the best bowlers at bowling at the stump. I challenge any of my bowlers in the nets to who can hit the stumps the most, bowling naturally. Most of my guys can’t hit the stumps but they will appeal for a thousand LBWs. It is all going over the stumps. Because we are playing on a concrete pitch, the ball is bouncing but they like to appeal. Archi and I had a game to see who can hit the stumps ten times first. We were neck and neck and he beat me – that has never happened before. We both got to 9, and I missed a couple of times and he got the tenth one.
He is really good at bowling where I need him to. On the field he has high standards. I have seen this guy run from long on to deep cover and dive to take a catch one handed. You might see one come right down his throat and he flops it. And then he is mad with himself as he is with everybody else. The more difficulty rating of the catch, the more likely he will catch it.
SJ– Very Afridi like.
EF– At least he doesn’t chew on the cricket ball – that is a good thing.
He is very fun to be around on the field, as well as off the field. We have actually ended up basically adopting him like a son. He was in the family pictures the other day. He is living with us right now, it is great to have him here. We are like an extended family. It doesn’t mean that I am opening my house to adopt every wannabe cricketer.
SJ– They got to be as good as Afridi for that!
EF– You have got to do what you can do to pay it forward. Talking about helping people is cheap. Doing something by putting your personal comfort aside and getting out of your comfort zone is important. Cricket is a great sport for that.
For as much as you and I get out on field together, sub-continental players have a different perspective on how the game is to be played as compared to Australian players. We are raised differently, what we appeal for is different. It has taken me a lot of work, through culture. It has brought us closer together, from all those cultures.
My kids have met Zimbabweans, Afghans, guys from UAE, Indians, Pakistanis and West Indians. They have grown up around multiculturalism and the teachers from schools say that my kids are gifted. They are not gifted, they have been given opportunities through cricket to experience the world, to understand views from different cultures. That has been a real bonus. Archi to me is a young man that has put his life on the line for American forces, why shouldn’t he be treated and helped in any way we can? I have seen the generosity of cricket players from all nations on how they open up their homes and their wallets and help out people. That is one thing that excites me about cricket.
SJ– Absolutely fantastic.
Archi, what has been your experience so far living in USA. You have interacted with a lot of Americans when you were with the Afghan army. But, coming here and then moving to the heartland of USA, Kansas, living with Edward and his family, what has been your experience like?
Ar– The experience is great. I got more than I was expecting. I have a great family. I can’t meet my family in my whole life again. But, when I come here, whenever I have a hard time and I come to them and need an advice, they help me. Especially his wife, she is my mom. If I have a rough time or something, and I ask her what I should do. Jason, his son is like my brother. We hang out and talk to each other, share our problem. I was scared when I ended up in Wichita and I had nobody. And then I have this family, they treat me more than a son. I was scared, but now I am feeling like I am with my family.
EF– He even did the dishes the other day. I came home and he was in the kitchen doing the dishes and I am like, “Finally, 28 years old and I finally have a kid that would do the dishes.”
SJ– This is a phenomenal story, Edward and Archi! Finally, I will give you the last word. What is going on in the Foxfire field and in the Fox family? What is the future in terms of cricket moving forward, not only for you and Archi and your kids, but in the larger scheme of cricket in Kansas and Wichita itself?
EF– I am vice-president at USYCA, I have held it since 2010. I don’t know if I will keep it up at the next election. Jamie Harrison started that organisation and had some great help from so many people who make up that organisation. I think junior cricket is the key in the US. USACA tries to do what they can and there is all these different factions that do what they can. Each one of us who can do something should do something. A lot of my Indian friends – hotel owners – that I met through cricket, a lot of them would say that there is no return of investment on a cricket field. They say that I could have taken that $100,000 and invested in a hotel. I would say, “Yeah, but i wouldn’t have the life that I have today.” It has created so many intangibles and continues to, that my financial life style might not be as good as it could be, but my lifestyle overall, being on the cricket field is good.
I am 48 years old. When I came to America, I was 22 and thought I would never play cricket again. I was 7 when I started playing cricket. So, at 35 I get back into playing cricket. I don’t know how to hold a bat, I can’t remember how to bowl. I have played cricket every year from 35 through 48 except for 1 year out with an injury. I had an artificial heart valve put in in 2012. I was afraid that was the end of cricket. I asked my doctor if I can play cricket. He says I can do whatever I want, there is a lifetime guarantee! I said, “Very funny!”
One of the goals that I would like to do, I sourced out of China a LED cricket scoreboard. I can get it from $1500 and install for $500. I need to raise $2000 for that. That is the next big thing for us. And then, I talked to a guy who has WiFi cameras. He said he can set up control room and cameras from all areas of the ground to record our matches for $10000. It is a dream, and is a future work. If I can no longer play cricket, I can sit at the desk and work the controls and pan and zoom the camera on Archi as he is being Afridi and smacking 50 runs off 12 balls. And then I can record it and put it up on YouTube.
[Help Edward in his efforts by contributing at his Go Fund page]
SJ– You have achieved a lot more than any passionate cricket fan can ever dream of. So, this is another good goal.
EF– And more youth cricket. I would like to sit in a wheelchair when I am 90 years old, on the pavilion veranda and watch little kids play cricket, and watch thousands of kids play cricket in Kansas and across the USA. And Archi is open to help me build up that too, right?
Ar– Yes. And my dream is for America to recognise cricket. I didn’t have the chance when I was in my country. In 1997, my father took me to Afghanistan when there was a Taliban ruler. I was listening to some game between Pakistan and some team and the radio had a commentary. The Taliban man there slapped me in my face, broke my radio and asked why I was listening to this game. I never had a chance, I did everything. I swear, we have a ground in our town. I built it, begged everyone to give me money so I can build it. For two years I built it, I spent a lot of money and time. I asked the government to put a check point there. There is a check point there, but before the game starts my job and my brothers’ and cousins’ job is to look for IEDs and bombs. We have been targeted 6-7 times. I have been targeted 5-6 times and almost got killed. But I continued with cricket. I never quit. My region is a small town, but they don’t quit. They plant the bombs and everything in our ground, but we are still going on there. I can’t run away every day. That is how those kids there have been. There is a shooting or whatever, but they love cricket.
I had no chance with my country. But, maybe I have a chance for cricket in America.
EF– It is about passion. We play cricket because it was fun. Greg Chappell came here for a book promotion back in 2004. Somebody had put on a thing in Illinois. I took my kids up there and we were talking. He said what we have lost in youth cricket is that we have set up all these structures but we have forgotten how to have fun.
Why did you start playing cricket? I started playing cricket because it was fun. I was such a bad cricketer that unless I had a bat and a ball, I didn’t get to play. but, I wanted to play. so, we would find room between the backyard and the houses, get in trouble for breaking windows, hit mom’s flowers, but I didn’t have to go through all the crap Archi had to go through. I haven’t heard some of his stuff, I have only heard some bits and pieces. It makes my cricket odyssey seem like a walk in the park. I didn’t have to clear my cricket field of IEDs and bombs and then go play on it. These guys are going through, in countries like Afghanistan, these guys have a passion for the game and are going to build it regardless. Building a ball out of a rope and tape – are you kidding me? it is just great. I love hearing the story.
I believe we have a real chance of having a non-traditional cricket pathway for American kids if we can stop worrying about the money and start worrying about having fun.
SJ– You couldn’t have put it any better. On that note, Archi and Edward, thank you so much for being on the show. It has been an absolute pleasure talking to you both.
EF– Thank you very much!
Transcribed by Bharathram Pattabiraman