Robin Scott-Elliot: Sweet tale of Afghan triumph shows the true value of sport

View From The Sofa: Storyville: Out of the Ashes, BBC4
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The Independent Culture

My tweeter of the moment is Lord Sugar, the sweeter tweeter. Sugar may seem an unlikely figure to embrace the medium but anyone who keeps an informed eye on the phone that occupies a prominent position on his secretary's desk in each series of The Apprentice will appreciate that he keeps himself at the cutting edge.

Sugar is never afraid to tackle the issue of the day, in between trying to wind up Piers Morgan, and his tweets about the rapidly evolving situation in Egypt have been instructive. "I hope this Egypt thing does not give people in other countries the idea to try to over throw govs," he worried on Friday. If he were an American, his political donations might have earned him an ambassador's job, and who better to address the world's trickiest diplomatic problems?

Afghanistan is a tricky problem – I'm sure Lord S has a view – but as a film on the BBC last week revealed, there is an answer. The Green Cross Code.

Afghans don't accept being told what to do, according to one of the country's cricketers featured in the Storyville slot. That is apart from by a small green man. It was in Jersey that the Afghan cricket team was first faced with a pedestrian crossing. Their president, a man who at home was backed by heavily armed bodyguards and gave the impression he did pretty much as he pleased even if his grasp of the front-foot no-ball law was patchy, was brought to an obedient halt. Either side of him his team lined up. "See that sign with the little man," he said gesturing humbly. "When he goes green we can go." They waited patiently, not something they were accustomed to. "It's called 'rules and regulations' – you have to wait even if there's no car." So they waited for the green man.

This was a beautifully crafted, warm, witty, sad and instructive film, following the incredible journey of the Afghan cricketers from, for some, refugee camps to the game's highest level.

The first hero of the piece was Taj Malik, the twinkle-eyed founding father of Afghan cricket. The team flew to Jersey for the first step towards the World Cup, stopping over in Dubai. Taj warily stepped onto an escalator for the first time as he went to look for people to talk cricket with. "Where are you from?" "Belgium." "They do not belong to the cricket-playing nations."

In Jersey the team were initially patronised, but not for long because they could really play. I once interviewed the coach, a Pakistani called Kabir Khan, who was appointed after Taj was cruelly sacked. Kabir described how the Afghan team had all the talent of his countrymen but none of the discipline and then added that he was only half joking. They had some huge bust-ups en route to the big time. One of Taj's brothers – there were two in the team – stormed off yelling "He's a fucking bisexual!" about a team-mate after being run out.

From start to a wonderfully happy ending this film was the perfect illustration of what sport is for; a temporary escape from life and death, and for that it matters.

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