Reviewed by Jenni Cahill
Rukhsana was a journalist until the Taliban took control of Afghanistan and women were banned from working and told the only place they should be seen is in the home or the grave. Outside, they were forced to wear burkas and had to be accompanied by a male relative and if these rules were broken they endured punishments ranging from beatings to execution.
Despite the new rules, Rukhsana continued to report the news in Afghanistan using a pseudonym so she is frightened when summoned to see Zorak Wahidi, Minister for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice. Wahidi is a cruel and ruthless leader and Rukhsana fears he has discovered her continued journalism. Swallowing her fear, Rukhsana goes to Wahidi where she is told about the plans to form an Afghan cricket team.
Entertainment – from music and movies to wedding celebrations – were banned under Taliban rule and the only sport permitted was football. But to improve their image, the Taliban planned to create a cricket team, holding a tournament and flying the winning team to Pakistan to train. Rukhsana seizes the opportunity to help her brother and male cousins escape their dangerous and oppressive country. She played cricket for her university’s female team in Delhi and sets about coaching the men. If they form a cricket team and win, they can leave Afghanistan and never return.
While her brother has a chance to escape, Rukhsana’s only hope is Shaheen, the man she is supposed to marry. Shaheen has already fled to America and Rukhsana must wait for him to send for her, providing the money to fund her escape with the help of a smuggler. But time is running out for Rukhsana. Wahidi wants to marry her and, as Minister, he can do as he pleases. Rukhsana has less than three weeks to teach her brother and cousins how to play cricket well enough to win and escape the country herself before Wahidi returns.
I have to admit I didn’t think I was going to enjoy this book. I’m not a fan of any sport and have no interest at all in cricket and the blurb did nothing to inspire me. So I was surprised by how much I did enjoy it and was quickly drawn into Rukhsana’s plight. It was a real eye opener to just how oppressive and scary Afghanistan must have been to live in during this time and while some of the events were hard to read about, it did make me grateful for the freedom we have. Despite the title, my reservations were unfounded. The book was much more about Rukhsana’s journey than cricket. In fact, it wasn’t heavy with cricket at all, with it only taking over a scene or two towards the end when the tournament takes place.
I found Rukhsana – and in fact all of her family – to be very brave, fighting for their freedom despite the terrifying consequences if their plans were discovered. I willed them on their way, so much so that it became a very intense experience as the last few days ticked by and Rukhsana made her courageous bid for freedom.
I’m glad I was given the opportunity to give The Taliban Cricket Club a go as it was a gripping, emotional read – and I learned what an over is in cricket!
Timeri N Murari's Website