Against a backdrop of war and poverty, Out of the Ashes traces the extraordinary journey of a team of young Afghan men as they chase a seemingly impossible dream - shedding new light on a nation beyond burqas, bombs, drugs and devastation. This feature-length documentary follows the Afghan cricket team in their quest against the odds to qualify for the World Cup. Backed by BBC Storyville and executive produced by Oscar-winning director and cricket enthusiast, Sam Mendes, ‘Out of the Ashes’ follows the squad over two years as they go from playing in their shalwar-kameezes on rubble pitches to batting their way around the globe and up the international league tables. At a time when headlines from Afghanistan are dominated by news of death and corruption, the film reveals a more human side to this beleaguered country which has endured three decades of war and occupation.
The film travels from refugee camps in Pakistan - where many of the players learned the game as boys - to practice sessions in Kabul and on to qualifying tournaments overseas. Finally, they reach the World Cup qualifier in South Africa where they face their greatest test. At the heart of the story is coach, Taj Malik - the driving force behind the team’s bid for success. He and his brothers, Hasti and Karim - also members of the team - fled Afghanistan with their parents after the Russians invaded in 1979. They honed their cricket skills in a refugee camp in Peshawar on the Pakistani border, before returning to Afghanistan after the US invasion in 2001. Together with the rest of the team, they’re on a mission to take Afghan cricket to the international stage, achieving national hero status in the process. “There are a lot of problems in the world today… Everywhere there is complex fighting, injustice.... The solution to all the problems is...cricket!” says Taj. But will he pay the price for his team’s success?
With unrestricted behind-the-scenes access at international matches, the film follows the ups and downs of their epic journey. We track the team as they travel the globe - eating fish and chips in Jersey, watching tango dancers in Argentina and swimming in the sea for the first time off the coast of Tanzania. Witty, touching and nail-biting to the end, Out of the Ashes is a compelling story of triumph over adversity. From filmmakers Tim Albone (former Afghanistan correspondent for the Times and Sunday Times), Lucy Martens (director of the award winning ‘Voices from Inside – Israelis Speak’) and Leslie Knott (a journalist with six years’ experience in Afghanistan) and produced by Leslie Knott and Rachel Wexler. Sam Mendes has been an avid supporter of the project, going with the film-makers to the World Cup in the West Indies, helping gain access to film the tournament, and advising during the final weeks of the edit.
A coproduction between Shabash Productions and Bungalow Town, Out of the Ashes was last broadcasted on BBC 4’s Storyville on Mon 7 Feb 2011 and Thu 10 Feb 2011.
Taj Malik is known as the founder of Afghan cricket, listen as he explains how he helped take Afghan cricket from the refugee camp to international success. (Duration: 7 minutes)