Friday 19 October 2012 

Cricket In Europe - A Summer Of Discovery

Over on the other pitch I catch up with Tariq Aziz, our coach from Peterborough.  He’s had a blinding tournament scoring over 200 runs, the third best aggregate but the team have been a bit hit and miss.  They too really want promotion but it’s not going to happen this year.  Their team does seem a little older than many of the others but appearances are deceptive and I could be wrong.  Their coach/manager is from the UK and has been in Portugal for just under 4 years (just short of the qualifying period for this tournament) having previously been in the military.

It’s a struggle in Portugal.  There are a smattering of clubs but really far apart with grounds in the Algarve, Porto and Lisbon.  There is a league in Lisbon but the other teams have to rely on friendlies because the travel is too much.  This is another major barrier for the development of cricket in these countries.

Portugal recover to make 120 all out from just under 20 overs after some eccentric running at the start of their innings and that looks to be at least 15 runs short of par.

Finland, however, looked to be intent on snatching defeat from the jaws of victory but with the last over starting have kept the run rate at a run a ball and duly complete victory with 3 balls remaining.

Elsewhere in the semi-finals Sweden dramatically hit the 4 they need off the last ball to chase down Spain’s 190 and earn a final berth and promotion to Division 1.  In the other match Israel lose their first game of the tournament, at exactly the wrong time to hand promotion to the inconsistent Isle of Man team.  If there was a prize for the most authoritative warm-up of the tournament it must go to the Isle of Man team.  They are a physically fit squad and they energetic warm-up in the singlet tops with “guns” flexing, borders on threatening.  Their cricket, however, failed to be as consistently threatening but they’ve done enough to gain promotion so you can’t say more than that.

There are many question as to how or why Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey are allowed to compete given there are principalities rather than nations and have such strong links to England where cricket is part of the furniture.  Fair questions indeed but they too have to select players from a very limited pool so they are hamstrung too, albeit with access to better facilities.

Saturday is finals day.  Everyone has a finals match to determine their placing in the competition.  For Cyprus and Malta it’s more than that.  It decides who gets relegated to Division 3.  This would represent a huge blow to both teams and it will no doubt be a closely fought game.  You have to feel for them both with Croatia and Luxembourg choosing their play-offs as the time to win their first matches.  By rights 5 losses out of 5 in the group stages should send you down but the vagaries of the play-off system are such that there is a lifeline and both countries have taken advantage of it.

Come Saturday and it was Malta who took the wooden spoon and relegation, going down to a 10 wicket defeat to Cyprus who, by all accounts, were much more “up for it”.  Division 3 beckons in 2 years’ time.

The final was one-sided affair with the Isle of Man winning by 8 wickets with many overs to spare.  Sweden were never at the races and to be fair both teams had achieved what they had come to achieve so I wouldn’t say it was the best of games.  It almost seemed superfluous but Isle of Man played really well and were good for their win.

The rumour here is that the Division 1 tournament in May 2013 will be held in Sussex, England.  Why?  Well the rule is that Division 1 must be played on grass.  Nice idea if it’s achievable but wouldn’t it be better to be played in a host country taking part to help them develop and promote their cricket?  Jersey and Guernsey were, I understand, both options but were discounted as they always host these tournaments, clearly a correct decision.  But wouldn’t it be better to play it in a European nation on artificial wickets than in England on grass?  One for debate certainly.

Elsewhere on finals day, Spain beat Israel to come 3rd and 4th respectively; the hosts Hellas beat Finland to 5th and Estonia lost to Portugal in the battle for 7th place.  Luxembourg won the battle of the late starters to come 9th ahead of Croatia (who culled all their ex-pat players shortly before the tournament) leaving Cyprus 11th and Malta 12th.

It was a fantastic tournament, lacking in regular updates thanks to the lack of internet locally for those back home, but that is one of the few lessons to be learnt.  When we are working hard to make these tournaments better known around the world, more current updates are a must.  The Estonian tournament was streamed live and, although viewing figures were hardly massive, this must be the way it has to go and quickly.

There is a feeling of stagnation talking to those in European cricket circles, with cuts here and cuts there and in a global recession too, although understandable, we just don’t need this.  A number of times I heard “they used to do that”. 
There appear to have been a lot of cutbacks and it sounds as though more flexibility is welcome too.  A one-size fits all mentality can never succeed and the hope is that more decision making is made at a local level and not in Dubai.

Continues on page 5...