Cricketer Adam Hollioake thought he had seen it all in a sporting career that has covered everything from leading England to a one-day trophy to a professional bout in mixed martial arts.

But that was before he took on a coaching role in Afghanistan's Shpageeza Twenty20 League, and found himself confronting the reality of daily life in Kabul. Last Wednesday, a bomb outside the Alokozay Kabul International Cricket Ground was detonated during a game between Hollioake's Boost Defenders team and MIS Ainak Knights. Three people were killed, including the bomber, and 12 wounded. Several overseas players left soon after, but Hollioake insisted on staying.

"I decided not to walk out on the job until the job is done," he told the Daily Telegraph, from his temporary home in Afghanistan's capital city. "Also, the people here have so much passion for cricket. Your first fear coming to this part of the world is security but I just did not want to walk out on them just because that would be an easy decision to make."

Hollioake is not ignoring the danger that goes hand in hand with life in a country still piecing itself back together after a ruinous period of civil war, but security has been stepped up after personal promises were made to the players by the country's president.


Even so, his account of the day of the explosion is still shocking. "When I heard the bang, I thought it might be an incredibly loud firecracker going off, but the noise after was so deep and rumbling and kept going on for such a long time that I felt it going through my whole body," he recalled.

"Straight away I thought: 'Whoa, what was that?' I could see the guys sprinting off the pitch. We could see where the bomb had gone off. I would say it was 75-100 metres from the changing room. You could see all the windows had been blown out. At first we were told it was a gas canister. But it became clear it was something else.

"Quite a few players went home. I weighed up a lot of things. I have quite a bit of experience in security so I waited to see what arrangements would be made.

"I was not going to make a rushed decision and go home. But, by the same token, I was not going to make a rash decision and stay just to try and be brave or make a stand. I was satisfied the security was going to be okay."

As Hollioake says, "you can't fight a bullet or a bomb", and he had to set emotion aside before deciding to stay. "I am not trying to be a hero here. The heroes are the security people who lost their lives. I am just processing information and felt there was no reason to not finish my job."

That stoicism is hardly surprising. The inhabitants of the cosseted world of professional sport may often lack perspective, but that could not be said of Hollioake, who lost his brother Ben in a car crash in 2002, and saw his family's property business in Australia go bust in 2010.

Hollioake is a fighter, blessed with a steel-clad spirit. It helped him lead Surrey to three county championship titles between 1999 and 2002, England to success at the Sharjah Trophy in 1997 and then try his hand at MMA as a light-heavyweight.

Now he has made a point of embracing life in Afghanistan, test cricket's newest outpost. The Shpageeza (it means Sixer) League is in its fifth season but, with Afghanistan's rise on the global stage, its profile has grown this year. There are overseas players from West Indies, Zimbabwe and South Africa this time, as well as foreign coaches in Hollioake, Dean Jones and Andy Moles.

Until Jones approached him, Hollioake, 46, did not even know there was a Twenty20 league in Afghanistan. Now he is in the thick of it. "The passion of these people is unrivalled anywhere I have been," he said. "They are fanatical about their cricket. There is nothing worse than apathy and these people feel strongly about whatever it is they do.

"Sometimes that can be intimidating for people from other parts of the world who are not like that but I find it fascinating and exciting.

"I have been to Pakistan, India and Port Morseby [Papua New Guinea] and I have faced all sorts of different challenges, so I was keen to come here for a number of reasons. One, to see the place but, secondly, to broaden my coaching knowledge.

"I would be lying if I said it had not been interesting. It is a passionate place. It probably mirrors my personality. There is not much middle ground with me and I am comfortable with the ups and downs here. I wanted experience in coaching but the idea was to have life experiences, too."

The star of the league is Rashid Khan, 18, who is one of the world's leading leg-spinners. Hollioake describes him as "world class" and thinks there is enough talent in Afghanistan to compete on the world stage. "When these guys make their international debut, they will be a tough side to beat."

Hollioake's team have reached the knockout stages that start tomorrow and the country is expected to come to a standstill for Friday's final.

Hollioake may have found his purpose. "My fighting is over. I want to help other people compete instead," he said. Kabul is a fitting place to do just that.