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The Fury of the Northmen

The Fury of the Northmen

The story of Denmark’s cricket scene recently reached a new peak when for the first time someone born and raised in Copenhagen stepped out onto a test match field. Amjad Khan represents what might well be a golden era for Denmark’s cricket team. There are no less than three other Danes hovering on the edges of professional cricket in England; the wicketkeeper-batsman Freddie Klokker, currently with Derbyshire; Thomas Hansen, a seamer who played four matches for Hampshire and Johan Malcolm-Hansen, a young allrounder. They are following in the footsteps of long time Derbyshire stalwart Ole Mortensen, an excellent bowler and immensely popular character in the Eighties and early Nineties; as well as the less successful Soren Vestergaard of Warwickshire and Soren Henriksen who played twice for Lancashire in 1985. Whilst the Danes still lag behind the Irish, Scots and Dutchmen in terms of their impact at national level, Khan, Klokker, Hansen, Malcolm-Hansen and the legendary Mortensen represent a highly creditable crop of talent for a nation where cricket could hardly be said to be widespread.

According to the MCC, Danes were first introduced to cricket when a group of teachers on a study visit to England became interested in the national sport. These teachers brought cricket back to their Scandinavian homeland, but only in the shape of a very basic game called “langbold” or “portbold”. It was not until the 1860s that proper cricket matches were played in Denmark, between groups of British railway engineers. These men stayed long enough to found cricket clubs in Randers, a city in the north of Jutland, and in Odense (the third largest city in the country), on the island of Funen. The first recorded match was played between Randers and Aalborg in 1866, though no Danes represented either city. However, in that same year some Danes played in a game between the Sore Academy and Copenhagen. Cricket had been introduced to the Academy by one of the teachers, Napoleon Ibsen. He gave his pupils the rules of the game in Danish and English, and organised a training session with two Copenhagen players to teach them how to play- English-educated or Anglophile members of the Copenhagen upper classes who had also become interested in the game- apparently both players later became members of the Danish government. They challenged the students to a game against them on the 7th of October. One of the Copenhagen players, an English-educated professor, offered a genuine English cricket bat to the best Sore player, generating a great deal of rivalry and enthusiasm. Two games were played- one in the afternoon and the other in the evening; Copenhagen won the first “80 to 114”, but the students won the second by “100 to 49”. Sophus Halberg, whose account we take these details from, was the student who won the bat, even though he was afraid his team-mate Holstein-Rathlou was a better player. Many of the boys who played cricket at Sore continued playing in later life.

By 1883 there were more than thirty sides in the country, indicating that cricket had broadened its appeal considerably. Many of the teams represented multi-sport clubs, called Boldklubs (literally “Ball Clubs”) in Danish. The leading sides were not too surprising found in Copenhagen; the Kobenhavns Boldklub (whose cricket team was founded by ex-students from the Sore Academy), the Akademisk Boldklub and Boldklubben Frem. The game was still strong in Jutland, where it had begun, and the peninsula boasted two strong sides in Hjorring CC, founded by the bacon magnate Albert Ginge, who as a boy had watched some of the engineers playing a game near Elsinore Castle and Nykobing Mors CC. The two powerbases were to meet for the first time in 1886, and Copenhagen won, with a batsman named Ludwig Sylow making 66. the last of these fixtures was pl;ayed in 1953. In 1887 the Kobenhavns Boldklub defeated the English side drawn from the crew of the Prince of Wale’s pleasure yacht Osbourne, supposedly the first “international” match in Danish cricket history.

In 1889, cricket joined the Dansk Boldspill Union- the Danish Ball Games Union, a national organising body for football and most other sports. The DBU organised regional cricket tournaments the following year, and Lieutenant-Colonel Hilarius Kalkau, who was captain of the Kobenhavns Boldklub, translated the rules of the game into Danish for the first time. Kalkau became President of the DBU in 1890 and continued his support of cricket. Also in 1890, a Danish side travelled to Berlin and played against what was supposedly a German side but which in fact consisted of eight Englishmen, an Australian named Dennys (their captain), a Scot and a Dutchman. After the Danes prevailed in the first game, Dennys had the cheek to tell them to play another game without their Scottish player, Smart (who had played a leading role in the victory). The Danes reversed their batting order and still defeated the “Germans”, receiving the silver medals the “Germans” had brought for the victors in deathly silence from the crowd.

From 1896 until 1929 Danish cricket was dominated by Charles Buchwald, who in 1900, at the age of 20, became the first Dane to score a century. He was in many ways Denmark’s equivalent of WG Grace. His chief scoring strokes were drives and leg glances; he also played late off the back foot, irritating bowlers; in combining both front and back play he must have had the same impact in Denmark as Grace did amongst the English. Statistics tell us just how dominant he was; upon retirement, he had scored over 10,000 runs in 175 innings; his nearest rival had but 3,000. In 1918, apparently batting through Spanish Flu, he made 205* for Akademisk Boldklub. On tour in England in 1926, playing on grass for the first time, he scored 326 runs in eight innings, including three fifties. He was also a good bowler, and won a silver medal with the Danish Olympic football team in 1908.

The DBU was dominated by football and handball, both Danish national obsessions to this day, and so cricket remained very much a second-tier sport, despite Denmark playing host to numerous English touring sides over the next fifty years including the MCC and the entrepreneur Sir Julien Cahn’s XI. Frequent tours led to an improvement in the standard of Danish cricket, for players adopted new techniques and methods from their English opponents. There was hope that a series of “continental tests” could be played against Holland, but the DBU refused to put out an “official” national side, and the idea came to nothing. Cricket was not dying, but neither was Denmark reaching its potential.

The Second World War disrupted cricket, but matches were still played between the Danish clubs; the German hand of occupation was far less oppressive in Denmark than in other nations. However, unable to import new equipment from England, clubs began to run short of bats. An enthusiastic cricketer, Frederik Ferslev, decided to try his hand at making some. His first attempts, using ash and pine, failed; “the hardest drive moved the ball only twenty or thirty yards”. Ferslev experimented with poplar, and although this wood was heavy and soft, Akademisk Boldklub ordered ten and a sporting goods firm took some to distribute throughout Denmark. Still seeking a better alternative Ferslev discovered a 1931 edition of the Cricketer and for the first time realised bats were made of willow and had to be pressed before use. After much difficulty Ferslev found a timber merchant with a stock of trunks available for purchase. After locating a press he could use, Ferslev began to distribute his new willow bats, fighting against rationing and restrictions; eventually he even managed to make cricket balls.

Denmark was liberated by British forces and there were a string of friendly matches played between the clubs and the regimental sides; it must have been a boon for a cricket-loving British soldier to find himself in a country where cricket was fairly widespread. Friendlies with the British forces based in northern Germany continued throughout the cold war. The two leading Danish cricketers of this period were the batsman Borge Pockendahl, an opener who scored more centuries than any other Dane, and the leg spinner Louis Bronee, who took more than 1,000 wickets and effected vicious turn on matting pitches. Axel and Svend Morild, bowlers, also rose to prominence; their family has been at the heart of Danish cricket ever since.

In 1953, after many years of wrangling, 31 Danish cricket clubs decided to break free of the DBU and form their own Dansk Cricket Forbund- Danish Cricket Federation. In 1954, hot on the heels of the inaugural Danish Championship, the chairman of the Akademisk Boldklub, Dr. Keppel, invited the Oxford University side to play against his team; the challenge they posed would be immense, as Oxford possessed two of the finest young batsmen in England; MJK Smith and Colin Cowdrey, who had already been selected for the Ashes tour that year. Cowdrey scored 96 in his side’s only innings and took 12 wickets with his legspin as Oxford won easily; however, the AB offspinner, Carl Larsen, had a close LBW shout turned down first ball to the English star; it was suggest the umpire, who was chairman of the DCF, no less, did not want to disappoint the large crowd.

Free of the DBU, the Danes were free to challenge the Dutchmen to a regular series of “continental Tests”, the first of which was played in 1955 at The Hague. Although the Dutch held the upper hand for many years, the games were close-fought and competitive. By 1972 the Danes had a side capable of defeating their nearest rivals. In their first innings the Dutch were bowled out for just 78, with Carsten Morild, one of a large family of Danish cricketers, taking 4-25. Denmark’s reply was led by the opener Henrik Sorensen, who hit 92, and the allrounder Henrik Mortensen, who followed his 3-25 with 50. Facing a large deficit, the Netherlands struggled once more, all out for 180. Mortensen took 7 more wickets and Morild chipped in with 3. Only the Dutch wicketkeeper Rene Schoonheim (who I had the pleasure of opening with in a club match last year) made it past fifty. Denmark thus ran out convincing winners.

Denmark continued to improve and performed brilliantly at the 1979 ICC Trophy, reaching the semi-finals only to be defeated by a Sri Lanka team on the verge of Test status. Their bowling was spearheaded by the fiery young paceman Ole Mortensen (not related to Henrik), undoubtedly the finest Danish cricketer of them all. He took ten wickets at an average of 13, backed by Carsten Morild- who had very similar statistics. The Danish batting was led by Henrik Mortensen who scored 196 at 55 and Keld Kristiansen who managed 133 at 33. This brilliant achievement augured well for the future.

In 1981, Mortensen made his debut for Derbyshire and swiftly became not only a key figure for their side but also a crowd favourite. He was volatile and aggressive; accurate and miserly. He reacted to unsuccessful appeals by shouting “SATAN!” followed by a torrent of Danish swearwords; but it was all done in good humour. He was a limited batsman at first-class level but, upon making 74* in one match, regaled reporters with a tall tale of a double century in Denmark. He finished his career with a Viking-helmet strewn benefit year and bowed out with over 400 first-class wickets at 24 and 219 one-day wickets at 26, with an excellent economy rate of just under 3.5. He later became coach of Denmark and mentor for Amjad Khan.

In 1986, Denmark came third in the ICC Trophy, behind Zimbabwe (who were far too good for that level) and the Netherlands. Ole Mortensen was of course the key man, heading both batting and bowling averages, but Allen From-Hansen and Soren Henriksen both had good tournaments with the bat, scoring over 200 runs each in the six matches. Unfortunately, the Danes have not managed to eclipse this performance and actually make the World Cup, though they have a good chance to do so in the next few years.

At the 1990 ICC Trophy Denmark’s performance was disappointing. Mortensen was still a force- he took 13 wickets at 13 each, and Soren Sorensen finished high up the averages with 10 wickets at just under 11 each. But following the retirement of Henriksen and Carsten Morild the batting was very weak, Johnny Jensen coming top of the team’s run-makers with a meagre 140. Much the same disappointment occurred in the 1996/97 tournament as they made it to the second stage but flattered to deceive, winning just one match against Canada. It was not until Freddie Klokker emerged that Denmark could match the other leading associates with the willow.

However, despite the poor results in the early nineties, Denmark’s cricket was gradually being strengthened by an influx of South Asian immigrants, particularly to Copenhagen. Over the decade, players of Asian descent became more common in the national side. The allrounder Aftab Ahmed, born in Pakistan, was a fixture in the team throughout the nineties and even appeared in 2005 aged 38. Danish-born Asians such as Amjad Khan have come to the fore in recent times, whilst never comprising the majority of the side.

Both Amjad and Freddie Klokker made their bow for the national side in the Emerging Teams tournament held in Harare in the year 2000. Denmark faced Zimbabwe A, Scotland, Ireland, Kenya and the Netherlands. In the first match, they beat the Zimbabwean side captained by Gavin Rennie and including such players as Ray Price (who bizarrely opened the batting), Dion Ebrahim, Trevor Madondo (the young batsman who died of cerebral malaria a few months later), Douggie Hondo and Hampshire’s Greg Lamb (then regarded as the brightest talent in Zimbabwe). They also recorded a victory over Ireland (Khan taking 2-39 and scoring an unbeaten fifty in the chase). Denmark finished fourth out of six- a creditable performance considering they had the smallest cricketing population.

Denmark came into the 2001 ICC Trophy with a strong bowling side led by Thomas Hansen and Amjad Khan, backed up by Soren Vestergaard, who finished the leading wicket taker at the tournament. Unfortunately although Denmark made it to the “Super League” round they failed to record a win and finished bottom. The batting was again the problem. Although Aftab Ahmed scored heavily, none of the other Danes were able to match him. Carsten Pedersen struck 103 in one innings but mustered only 29 runs in his other eight. Klokker was only 18 and his average matched his age, as the other less talented batsmen also struggled.

As Amjad and Klokker began to make their way in professional cricket, the standard of the Danish side improved. In early 2005, they qualified for the third round of the C&G Cup and were rewarded with a home tie against Northamptonshire. Unluckily, the tie had to be played on a turf wicket in early May, something that climactic conditions in Denmark would normally restrict. As it was, the Danes were bowled out for just 56 by the South African Kolpak player Charl Pietersen. As the chairman of the Dansk Cricket Forbund said; “at least we were bowled out by someone with a Danish name.” It was doubly disappointing because the ICC Trophy was only a few months away.

As it happened, Denmark performed very promisingly in the competition. Klokker led the way with a string of good innings, including an unbeaten ton against the USA which set up a surprise victory. The Danes also beat Uganda, and might have contended for a World Cup spot had they managed to beat Ireland, the hosts. At one point in the crucial match, Ireland had been reduced to 23-3, but Ed and Dominik Joyce both made fifties to set too high a target.

Things have continued to improve since then; Klokker has two first-class tons to his name; Khan of course now has a test cap. Denmark defeated the struggling Bermudans twice in 2007, and returned unbeaten from a tour of Kenya. At the European Championship in 2008 they defeated Italy and Norway (a former province of Denmark), and though their game against the Dutch was washed out they finished ahead of them in the table.

With Dutch cricket currently going through a difficult patch (despite the brilliance of Ryan ten Doeschaete and the promise of Alexei Kerveezee), it is entirely possible that Denmark could overtake them and become the best of the continental European sides. A good performance in the coming World Cup Qualifiers could see Amjad Khan’s fellow Danes make their mark on the world stage and raise their country’s cricket to new heights.

Some Danish National Team Stats (courtesy of Mr. Lars Andersen, the editor of the Dansk Cricket Yearbook)

Most Runs
1. Freddie Klokker (55 inns, 2116 runs)
2. Aftab Ahmed (79 inns, 1998 runs)
3. Carsten Pedersen (86 inns, 1857 runs)
4. Soren Henriksen (58 inns, 1416 runs)
5. Carsten Morild (55 inns, 1142 runs)

Most Wickets
1. Thomas Hansen (113 wickets, Avg. 18)
2. Henrik Mortensen (104 wickets, Avg. 15)
3. Soren Vestergaard (96 wickets, Avg. 16)
4. Ole Mortensen (93 wickets, Avg. 14)
5. Carsten Morild (88 wickets, Avg. 17)

Highest Individual Scores
1. Carsten Pedersen (197 v. Namibia, 1998)
2. Freddie Klokker (138 v. USA, 2005)
3. Freddie Klokker (129 v. Kenya A, 2007)
4. Freddie Klokker (119 v. Holland, 2008)
5. Freddie Klokker (119 v. Norway 2008)

Best Figures
1. Thomas Hansen 7-13 v. Bermuda 2007
2. Ole Mortensen 7-19 v. Israel 1994
3. Henrik Mortensen 7-35 v. Ireland 1971
4. Soren Vestergaard 7-38 v. Ireland 1994
5. Henrik Mortensen 7-90 v. Holland 1972


Good stuff, very informative. Denmark have never played a first-class match to my knowledge, but it would be interesting to see them in the Intercontinental Cup at some stage.

Comment by stumpski | 12:00am GMT 20 March 2009

I don’t mean to be too critical of an article that gave me good info on Danish Cricket (something I knew nothing about)BUT, I think it would have been useful information to actually find room for saying what country Khan actually represented in his recent test. I’m presuming it wasn’t Denmark. (Was it England? Pakistan? Bangladesh?)Strange oversight.

Comment by Trumpers Ghost | 12:00am GMT 23 March 2009

I assumed most people reading the article would know it was England, to be honest.

Comment by Chubb | 12:00am GMT 25 March 2009

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