Friday 19 October 2012 

Cricket In Europe - A Summer Of Discovery

At Associate level, there is more money (around another US$100,000) but far more restrictions and requirements including having a full-time paid Chief Executive, something that some countries have found an imposition but rules are rules!

If there are any Europe entrepreneurs out there reading this – your continent needs you!  As little as 20,000 Euros per year would make a tangible difference in many countries.   If you’re interested, contact me and I will point you in the right direction.

Back to the cricket.  Finland v Sweden was my game of choice while Isle of Man thrashed Croatia on Ropa 1.  Finland started the tournament late thanks to their kit going AWOL and not arriving on time.  Re-scheduling has put things back on track but they made up for the false start with a couple of wins.  Sweden came into the game with 2 wins too including the surprise Isle of Man victory so the Scandinavian derby was sure to be a close one.

Some eccentric batting in the guise of dreadful shot selection led to an early fall of wickets but a 73 from just 46 balls from Ekhpelwak Kuchey brought the Finnish to a competitive 136 off their 20 overs.  Sweden made light work of it winning by 6 wickets with more than 2 overs to spare.  An explosion of 6s in the second half of the innings meant a fairly easy victory. 

Opener Shahid Mustafa ending on 66 not out from 57 balls with 7 sixes.  3 wins from the 3 and the new surprise package in the competition.

Until the afternoon that is.  A surprising defeat to Cyprus has put things back in the melting pot.  Interestingly Cyprus have brought in a level 3 coach from the North West of England just for the tournament.  A tough gig for both parties I would think. 

The coach knows nothing about the players aside from detailed reports sent to him in advance and arrives on the day before the tournament to meet the players for the first time.  For the players they have a new coach to get used to and a whopping 24 hours to do it.  Again this is quite typical affiliate nation behaviour.  Is it money well spent from an already tiny budget? 

The Swedish victory suggested so but as I write they are in the Relegation play-off against Malta, so, maybe not.

The final day of qualifying, my day 3, tournament day 4 is going to be an interesting one.

Day 4 and…….it’s raining!  Yes raining in Corfu in September.  Fortunately it’s not enough to affect most matches but one does have a Duckworth Lewis conclusion.  Hard to believe in this heat but nevertheless true.

I went back to Messonghi on the invitation of the Greek Cricket Federation President, Iosif Nikitas.  A very proud man with big plans, Mr Nikitas talked to me about the challenges of running as national cricket federation on US$15,000 a year in a country in economic turmoil.  The more touring teams that come into the country, he tells me, the less his government funding gets cut!  I don’t imagine that funding is huge to start with so this is critical for the country.  As well as this tournament this year, they are once again running schools tournament next April, featuring schools from South Africa, Australia, South Africa, Qatar and England.  This takes some organisation and only goes to show the level of passion and organisation the Federation have.

There are other challenges too.  There are 11 cricket clubs in Greece, 8 are on Corfu, only 3 are on the mainland in Athens.  It is a vast country with a population of over 11 million people and yet cricket is played just about nowhere.  On the one hand the scope for expansion is enormous, on the other where do you start?  It was impressive that they had mostly Greek surnames on their squad list.  Not many of the continental European sides taking part could boast quite so many.  Their captain here is ex South African International Nic Pothas.  

Pothas is quite some player to have in a tournament like this, but he doesn’t rule the roost.  He sits quietly in the background, advising, encouraging but not hogging the limelight.  He bats in the middle order and doesn’t keep wicket as he would have done for Hampshire a couple of seasons ago.  He appears to be an object lesson in how ex-pros could add enormous value in these countries.

Greece are playing Finland and it’s a huge match.  Greece need to win to stand a minute chance of coming 2nd and being in with a shout of promotion still.  But they have to win really well.

They start brilliantly by scoring 211 with opener Aslam Mohammad scoring 80 off 40 balls with 8 huge sixes.  This leaves them needing to bowl Finland out for 43 or less.  Not easy.  At 26-5 it is seriously game on and the level of competition is really highlighted but unfortunately for the hosts Finland rally and end 53 runs short of victory but far too many for Greece to qualify.

It is a blow to Mr Nikitas as they really want promotion.  With promotion to Division 1 comes the chance to become an Associate member and more money.  It’s now a 2 year wait for them but rest assured they won’t rest on their laurels.   There are big plans to develop Ropa Valley further into 4 grounds with net facilities and a proper pavilion.  It would look amazing. 

The cost EUR200,000 maybe?  I think it could be done for less.  It needs a sponsor to bring the vision alive because the country is broke but if it comes alive it will bring people to the country and boost the economy.  In the words of “Shoeless” Joe Jackson in the film Field of Dreams, “If you build it, they will come”.  If you share the vision and have a bank balance to make it happen, contact me and I’ll put you in touch.  This is a real chance to create something quite wonderful for cricket in Europe.

Day 5, my day 4, is play-off semi-final day.  My original plan was to go to the Gouvia Marina ground as I’m yet to make it to that one but back at Ropa Valley, Greece have been drawn Estonia and Portugal are playing Finland.  One of our coaches plays for Portugal and I still haven’t caught up with him so 3 birds with one stone is just too tempting so it’s off to Ropa Valley again.

And well worth the trip.  Mr Nikitas is pleased to see me again and I meet two ex-British Airways employees and long-time tourists to the island with the Airways team.  This is their 36th trip in the last 40 years.  One of them, 77 years young, and I mean young, only stopped playing at 72.  Proving what  a small world it is we have a common friend too who runs one of the colts cricket teams in Chertsey in Surrey near our base.

Estonia struggle to 113 against Hellas and despite a good bowling performance that is never going to be enough and they lose by 7 wickets with 10 balls remaining, captain Pothas finishing it off with 10 not out of 4 balls.

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