On Tuesday 10th August the Argentinean Cricket team were due to play MCC at Wimbledon Cricket Club. As the rain fell however it became less and less likely that a ball would be bowled and so to help prepare this National side prepare for the ICC World Cricket League competition, which will be played in Italy next week, Mike Gatting, MCC match manager, answered Argentine questions on everything from mental preparation for batting, how to play spin and the best way to recover from a day in the field.
Cricket has been played in Argentina since 1806 with the international side making its first appearance in 1868 against Uruguay. The first First Class match was played against MCC in 1912 and a strong relationship has existed between the two sides ever since with MCC tours visiting Argentina in 2001, 2006 and 2008.
CEO of Cricket Argentina Grant Dugmore, who is also a player in the national side, spoke about the position of cricket in a country dominated by other sports and the difficulty in achieving a league structure with depth. Dugmore explained that “Cricket has an amazing history in South America but has been side-lined by more popular sports such as rugby, golf, tennis, polo and football. Children are taught cricket in a handful of schools, particularly in the capital, Buenos Aires, where most of the clubs are based. However it is not the resources or breaking into a bigger market where we struggle but maintaining the talent we have. Children who have been brought up through the system will often lose interest particularly as cricket has no media coverage in Argentina.”
Argentina boasts four cricket leagues with five or six teams in each league with Dugmore estimating that around 300 people play the game across the country. Dugmore suggests that this could be due to a rugby boom in the 1960s and 1970s which resulted in a decline in the popularity of cricket. Despite this Argentina is one of the more successful cricketing countries in South America leaving Chile, Brazil and Uruguay behind and they compete in the 4th division of the ICC World Cricket League and have been as high as the second division.
With the help of Coach Toby Bailey, a playing member of MCC, Argentina hope to do well against the USA, Tanzania, Italy, Nepal and the Cayman Islands next week, particularly as these matches are part of only a handful of games they play each year. Despite their lack of match practice Bailey states that “the Spirit of Cricket certainly exists within these players, they want to perform well and as such are prepared to train outside in 2 or 3 degrees. They expect me to be used to the cold as I am from England – but I have never had to train in outdoor nets in the winter!” Bailey goes on to explain that he realised his calling when he captained an MCC tour to Mozambique. “Seeing the enthusiasm in the team we played compared to the level of coaching and facilities they had available made me see how I wanted to direct my cricket career and since the job came up with Argentina Cricket last year I have never looked back”.
On Monday the side played Teddington, Bailey’s old club, and despite being beaten by 80 runs the side learned a lot. Although they are playing for their country, these Argentine cricketers are not professionals and so playing Teddington, who are currently in the last four of the national Club Competition, made it good practice for their tournament next week. Bailey explained how his contacts with Teddington and MCC helped him to organise this tour to London as a warm up for Italy and how two MCC Young Cricketers, Paul Mitchell and Tom Lewis, coached and played with the Argentinean side during the English winter. They raised the standard of the Argentines and were integral members of the U19 coaching set-up.
Bailey also coaches the Women’s side that have become more and more successful over recent years. This could be due to the fact that other sports do not threaten women’s cricket as much and actually the skills from the main ladies sport, hockey, are transferrable. It could well be the Argentine ladies who are the first to put Argentina on the Worldwide Cricket map.
MCC match manager Mike Gatting, who captained the MCC tour to Argentina in 2006, also highlighted the Spirit of Cricket which exists in Argentina. Gatting stated that he “was pleasantly surprised by the local people, their enthusiasm and organisation. They had some excellent games in 2006 and played on some lovely pitches particularly that of the Hurlingham Club in the Buenos Aires Province of Hurlingham”.
The MCC team due to play against Argentina consisted of eight players who toured there in 2008. When asked if this was intentional Gatting explained that “MCC tours aim to form relationships with clubs as well as people and a chance to renew friendships through cricket is always welcomed by both teams. The standard of these cricketers (Minor Counties) reflects the level of these Argentines and is a sign of respect to their ever increasing ability”.
As the rain continued to fall after lunch it became less and less likely that these teams would play each other. However, keen to prepare the Argentinean side for their campaign next week Gatting ran the question and answer session with the players and also reminisced about captaining in the World XI vs. MCC XI telling stories of glory wickets and a captains innings.
Although a ball wasn’t bowled the day proved that the Spirit of cricket was strong within the Argentine players and, for the dedicated group of players present at Wimbledon Cricket Club it is a vital part of their life despite being a minor sport in their country.