Battlefield 'now a cricket pitch'
A British soldier has helped transform a battlefield in Afghanistan into a pitch for the most tranquil of sports - cricket.
Sergeant Trevor McDowell, a Territorial Army soldier deployed in Nad-e Ali with the 1st Battalion The Royal Irish Regiment, turned a piece of farmland which was once a combat zone into a cricket pitch where locals regularly compete against each other.
The Shingul area was known as a hotspot for Taliban activity and members of the Shropshire-based Royal Irish were forced to engage in combat regularly with enemy fighters.
But after their counter-insurgency campaign, carried out alongside members of the Afghan National Army (ANA), the area is no longer a battleground.
Sgt McDowell, 40, from east Belfast, decided to donate cricket gear to villagers after witnessing locals using makeshift equipment to play a game similar to rounders.
After the kit was handed over to village elders, the British and Afghan troops staged a quick match between themselves to ensure locals were clear on the complex rules of the game.
Sgt McDowell said: "We knew that our efforts had transformed the local area and brought normality to the people when our patrols witnessed locals playing stick and ball games on previously contested ground.
"These games, and the relaxed posture of the locals, were a clear sign of success and proof of what can be achieved with security.
"I was really pleased to obtain and distribute the cricket gear with my ANA colleagues. In the future, I hope all Afghan children feel safe enough to laugh and play in the way they now can here.
"Sometimes it's the smallest things that make this job worthwhile. Seeing soldiers teaching Afghan children cricket and then walking away, letting the children's fathers and the village elder carry on while we quietly observed in the background, was a great feeling - particularly knowing what this area was like not very long ago."