World Cup Group B – It’s Just Not CroquetGraham Brown |
As the drone of the drone of the Vuvuzehla becomes almost as annoying as the high pitched yahoo squeal that plagues our beautiful game we crane our necks to look past the football and examine at the cricket at some of the nations competing in Group B of the football world cup. Without boasting any test playing nations, there is still a vast array of cricket being played away from the TV cameras and press reporters. With the conversations in South Africa focussing on the football dipping and swerving from left to right, there are swing bowlers all over the world praying for the boffins that created the dervish of a ball to take a look at the humble corkie, and one of those men might just be Nigerian seamer, Akolade Saheed Olawale.
Olawale started playing cricket when he was in High School playing for his school team; In 2005 he was selected for the Nigeria U15 team in Accra, Ghana to participate at the ICC West Africa U15 Championship against Ghana the host team, Gambia and Serra Leone. Nigeria finished a respectable second in the tournament and it was the first rung on the ladder of a successful international career for Olawale. Since then he has represented the Nigeria U19 and the National Team. As a medium-fast bowler and late order batman he has developed well over the last 6 years and is currently the opening bowler for the Nigeria National Senior Team. Making his Senior Team debut at the age of 16 against Japan at tournament in Guernsey in May 2009. On the domestic front Akolade is one of the key players of Ibeju Lekki Cricket Club and has recently been admitted to attend Shedders cricket academy in Durban, South Africa. In the future he aims to play Professional Cricket in Australia, UK or South Africa. Olawale leaves Nigeria in a state where cricket has limited popularity, especially in comparison to football, however that is beginning to change.
Under the handling of Mr. Kwesi Sagoe, the new president of Nigeria Cricket Federation, says Olawale, cricket has gained a great deal. He is working very hard in the offices to set up the development program in Nigeria which is taking off, the Nigeria Cricket Federation also has begun a support scheme for national team players, which is a positive step. Away from the national picture, the bowler gives the nod to his own side Ibeju Lekki Cricket Club who have won 5 trophies in 2 years and Government College Ibadan Old Boy Cricket Club who have amassed four pieces of silverware over the same period. Looking back Olawale identifies the best Club in Nigerian History as the Foundation Cricket Club. The shining stars of Nigerian Cricket, and names to watch out for in the future are Adegbola Adekunle, Ogunlola Joshua, Endurance Ofem, Bejide Jide and Okundili Emmanuel and they, along with their fellow cricketers compete in a league and a tournament in each of the three regions of Nigeria, totalling around 30 cricket clubs.
With his heart and winning spirit Alan Donald is cited by Olawale as his cricketing hero, and this attitude is reflected by the young Nigerian who claims that Nigeria will be certainly be competing in the 2040 cricket world cup, and they will be full ICC members by then. His predictions look all set to come to fruition as the Nigerians already have the TBS Cricket Oval and Abuja National Stadium to host their major games, there are also plans to construct many more turn wickets around the country. Akolade is grateful to the ICC as without their funding the up and coming nations all over the world might not be able to play the game he loves. To move the game on further in Nigeria sponsorship is needed as well as the contributions of forward thinking cricketing individuals, like the new president of the Nigeria Cricket Federation.
Forward thinking people are the lynch pin of any nation attempting to develop themselves in world cricket, one of those id Pakistani Expat Ryu Roni who has become a Korean citizen and is looking to take the game in Korea from its current humble state into a more recognised sport. He is involved in cricket in Korea through a love and a passion for the game. Famed for his big drinking and even bigger hitting, the right handed all rounder is identified as a great outfield catcher. ‘Big Roni’ lives in Korea, helping the Korean National team from time to time, but spends half of his time playing cricket in Japan, and the other half keeping the crowd happy with his dancing and jokes in four languages.
When compared to football, says, Roni, cricket is not popular in Korea, but the charismatic player predicts it will be popular in future. He hopes that the people of Korea can take cricket to their heart as they have football. He is sure that they will if everyone involved in the game works hard to establish cricket in Korea. The most successful team in Korea is a team of expats known as the ‘Pakistan Eagles’ and ‘Big Roni’ modestly names himself as well as his friend Tahir Mughal as the two stars of Cricket in South Korea. The biggest problem with moving the game on at the moment in Korea is lack of spaces to play, however Roni confirms that cricket Korea is supported by addidas and some Korean companies so hopefully resources to find a suitable place will be available soon.
With his reputed big hitting style it is little wonder that Roni has taken inspiration from the game from Australian batsman Matthew Hayden, although it may be a few years until we see the Mongoose bat introduced into Korean Cricket. The development of Korean cricket looks to go from strength to strength with some large sponsors in place, as well as the ICC investing time money and expertise into cricket in Korea. From a personal point of view, ‘Big Roni’ also hopes to pass down his skills to the next generation of Korean cricketers, fathering two sons who he wants to take up the game. Finding a ground to play, Roni suggests, is the next step to bringing cricket to the masses in South Korea.
Greece may not instantly provoke thoughts of cricketing prowess, but with cricket looking to become an Olympic sport it stands to reason that the sport should be growing in the home of the Olympic Games. We speak to George Xenakis, who provides us with the low down on cricket in the European nation of Greece. George started playing when he was 6-7 years old in Australia and managed to play up to A grade country cricket in Australia, moving to Greece he participated in the Greek league and has represented the Greek National Team
George doesn’t think it is even worth talking about the gulf between football and cricket in Greece, football, says George, is the King and cricket here is almost nonexistent. However of the clubs that do play the more successful sides are mostly the teams that are from the island of Corfu (Gymnastikos CC, Feax CC, Kerkyra CC and others) since cricket has been more actively played in Corfu. Athens is picking up quite well in the last few years and his team, Phaethon CC is amongst the top four. Xenakis is loathed to name any stars of the game in Greece instead choosing to refer to the entire Greek national team as the stars of the game.
There are few active cricketers playing the game in Greece, however the numbers are growing through an influx of Indians, Pakistanis and Sri Lankans into the country. This development, aided by sub continental imports may be a slow one as Xenakis admits that there is only one cricket ground in the whole of Greece, located in Corfu. Citing Viv Richards, Desmond Haynes, Kepler Wessels as the great batsmen he admires in the game the Greek cricketer draws his inspiration from some of the best. However that inspiration is coupled with a grim sense of realism as he offers his doubts that Greece would be in a position to compete in a 2040 Cricket World Cup. Although he sees the ICC as doing a good job in world cricket Xenakis believes they could do more by looking to work more with underdeveloped countries rather than focussing on the top. More money is needed for cricket to progress in Greece, as well as more pitches to play on, the players are out there and willing to play.
The final country we look at is the footballing superpower, Argentina. Famed for the silky skills of Maradonna and Messi cricket has a lot to go up against. And it?s not just the men getting a bite of the global cricketing pie as Catalina Greloni Pierri, captain of the Argentina Women’s national cricket team informs us. Pierri started playing cricket at the age of 9, joining in with the boys as the girls had no team of their own.
In Argentina cricket is far behind football in terms of popularity, It is not a popular sport as is not seen on TV or has results published in the newspapers. Football is the most popular game, and afterwards Rugby and field hockey comes next. Most of the Argentine people don?t know about the sport and don’t know the rules. Sometimes, jokes Pierri, when you tell people you play cricket they think you mean croquet! The most successful teams in Argentina are the old English, traditional clubs Belgrano Athletic, Lomas Athletic, St. Albans, St. Georges and Hurlingham and the star players are national Skipper, Esteban MacDermott, wicketkeeper Alejandro Ferguson and best batsman, Donnie Forrester.
The cricket community in Argentina, Pierri continues, is about 600 players between men, women and juniors. The domestic season has different tournaments called Robin Stuard Shield, 1 Division, Second Championship, Third Division, Juniors Leagues: U15, U19, Founders Cup and Womens League, there are always plenty of friendly matches played during the season. For such a small group of cricketers there are plenty of facilities, compared to some other minor cricketing nations. The country boasts 10 pitches available during the cricket season and 7 nets for training. Although there are not stadiums as such most of the pitches have places to sit where people can go and watch the game.
Pierri’s cricket hero is Ricky Ponting who she admires as a great batsman and the way he deals with being the captain, alluding to his great building strategies and thinking what s best for his team and dealing with pressure. Doing her bit for girl power, her heroines include Englands’s Claire Taylor and Charlotte Edwards. Looking to the 2040 cricket world cup, the Argentine feels that they will be definitely be represented there, and would be full of pride watching a national squad representing Argentina on a world stage.
Clearly impressed with the role of the ICC in world cricket Pierri thinks that they do a lot for countries like Argentina to be at the standard we are. Last year in our America?s Championship we beat Bermuda, which is a cricketing nation with a much larger cricketing history than their own. With Chile and Brazil included in the ICC development program the future looks bright as it is a great advantage for Argentina s to have countries that are near, so theycan play competitive matches and raisetheir standard. Womens cricket is growing very fast across the globe and streaming the Womens world cup last year was a great move from ICC, so people can start indentifying their own women stars. In terms of improving things, it seems the wheels are firmly in motion with a development drive taking place to increase the quantity and quality of people taking up the game in Argentina. Pierri tips her hat to the job that the hard working team of coaches are doing to help new players understand the game and play different situations. With more media support to spread the word about the great fun cricket is, cricket can continue to go from strength to strength in Argentina.
The second instalment of our look at the cricketing world away from the test playing nations has shown that even with little resources, the cricket bug can still take hold, while the hyperbole and attention is centred round the world cup, please spare a thought for the bloke organising the fixture schedule for the single cricket pitch in Corfu, or the crowds turning up to support their favourite croquet side in Argentina.