Refugees form a successful cricket team, on and off the field

Yes, yes, I know, it is a guaranteed vote winner and a potentially huge boost in talkback ratings if you can demonise asylum seekers as filthy queue jumpers who just might be terrorists.

But, inspiringly, there are still many Australians who treat them the way the vast majority are – you know, like fellow humans, as if they're seriously desperate people who have fled for their lives, and deserve sympathy and support.

A case in point is the mighty Blue Mountains Refugee Support group, who late last year came to the aid of a group of Tamil refugees. The young men had fled Sri Lanka for their very lives, arriving by boat, only to go via Villawood Detention Centre and end up in a dreadful legal limbo, unwanted by two countries and – afloat on a sea of boredom, with barely a paddle to get moving with, let alone be able to work – unable to get on with their lives.

The good folk of the Blue Mountains decided to help them form a cricket team to give their week a focal point, and the refugees instantly embraced the idea.

And when your humble correspondent put a tiny item in my Saturday column saying they needed a cricket kit and a kitty for membership fees etc – as they had neither hide nor hair of either – the organiser, Noeline Nagle, was flooded with offers from Fairfax Media readers who very kindly contributed both. The mighty Wentworth Leagues Club also agreed to sponsor the team, and Ocean 12, as they called themselves, hence took their place in the Last Man Standing T20 cricket comp, from November 19 last year. And the story gets better still.

For despite the viciousness you often hear from shock jocks and their callers – not to mention the floor of parliament – from the beginning the team has been treated with nothing but respect by opposing teams and supporters.

And after a very shaky start where Ocean 12 couldn't buy a win, some of their confidence returned and from mid-December they began to triumph – and haven't lost a match this year!

The benefit of playing cricket to them has been a wonder to behold and Ms Nagle, pressed, informs me the standout was a young fellow who had only barely escaped with his life from his home country, and then nearly lost it again on the voyage here, and was consequently the most psychologically fragile of the lot of them.

In one of the early games, as he walked out to bat, Ms Nagle says, "my heart was thumping. I really didn't know if he would drop his bundle or go with it. Well, he went with it and scored a total of 61 runs. His fellow team members supported him as only Tamils can (loudly). His smile when he returned to base was one I will never forget. No amount of psychological help could have worked better. He is now a great little player and gaining in confidence every week."

Because of the delicacy of their situation, and the situation back in Sri Lanka, the names of the asylum seekers must not be published, but a wonderful thing happened earlier this month.

The Primary Club of Australia held a day at the SCG where a Multicultural Team took on an Indigenous Australian side, and their captain, “Stephen” – a qualified mechanical engineer, with a horrifying story behind him – was invited to attend as a volunteer.

Cue the sun:

As game time approaches, the Multicultural side is one short, and Stephen is asked if he'd like to play.

And that, my friends, is the photo you can see there. From a civil war, to "six months in a leaky boat" to Villawood Detention Centre, to Villification to kindness, to cricket, to hitting a six at the SCG!

Bravo, Blue Mountains Refugee Support, Wenty Leagues Club, Fairfax Media readers, Primary Club of Australia and, most particularly, Ocean 12!

Twitter: @Peter-Fitz

The story Refugees form a successful cricket team, on and off the field first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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