February 10, 2012

Cricket's not all greek to the Greeks

In Corfu and Athens the sport is catching on, and the locals are getting their countrymen from all over the world to visit and play as well
22

In Cape Town cricket is played against the backdrop of Table mountain, in Dharamsala the Himalayas watch over the sport, and in Corfu it's the Venetian New Fortress that guards the pitch.

Yes, Corfu. That Greek island soaked in sunshine, decorated with olive groves and vineyards and accessorised with French and Italian architecture is now home to a real-life version of My Big Fat Greek Cricket Match.

Matches, in the plural, in fact. In April the Hellenic Cricket Federation (HCF) invites schools from across the globe to compete in a multinational tournament to open their season. The HCF covers the teams' accommodation and breakfast and dinner, effectively leaving the parents with not much more than flight costs to bear. In September they close the summer with the Greek Cup, a competition in which people from the Greek diaspora play. Sandwiched between these two highlights is a thriving domestic season that includes 20 clubs, 13 of them in Corfu.

Surprisingly to some, cricket owns a part of the island's history too. It has been played there since 1823, when a British Garrison and Royal Navy Team contested the first match on Corfu. Since then, English teams have often combined beach holidays with pre-season tours. Having observed the visitors over the years, the locals began to take an interest as well.

Within 12 years of the game's introduction, they had set up two of their own clubs. One catered for top-tier players and was named Large and the other one, Small, for players at a slightly lower level. For 58 years these were the only two clubs to play cricket in Corfu. Eventually they merged but they remained the founding stone on which the rest of Greek cricket was built.

More than a century and a half after, in 1995, Greece became an affiliate member of the ICC. They have featured in the European Outdoor and Indoor tournaments and won the ECC Trophy in 1999, earning promotion to Division Two of the European league, in which they still play. Like many Affiliate nations, their goal is to be able to play at a higher level and qualify for a global event such as the World T20, and they have found a novel way to try and do it.

"Cricket is a wonderful vehicle to bring communities back to Greece and teach them about their culture," Iosif Nikitas of the HCF told ESPNcricinfo in Kensington, Johannesburg, where a team from the federation spent the first week of February. They had come to South Africa on a reconnaissance mission, scouting for players of Greek descent, and to meet with the Africa Cricket Union about developing their relationship. Saheti Secondary School in the suburb of Bedfordview was their main focus. It is a traditional Greek school, attended mostly by students of Greek heritage, who have been invited to play in the April festival.

On the face of it, it would appear as if Greece wanted to poach these talented schools players for their own side, but Nikitas was quick to dismiss that idea. He explained that the HCF is trying to tap into the diaspora so it can perform the dual role of uniting people with their culture and benefiting from the skills players would have learnt in countries with strong cricket traditions.

"Three years ago we went to Melbourne, where there are more than 400,000 Greeks," Nikitas said, "and we told them, 'Look, we play cricket.' They were very surprised.

In 2011, they had Tom Smith's Cricket Umpiring and Scoring Book translated into Greek, using people from the island's university. The terminology proved tricky in some cases because the Greeks have invented some of their own words for a few terms

"Some of the third- and fourth-generation Greeks came to Corfu after we spoke with them, and because of cricket they feel they are Greek again. They speak Greek, they want Greek books from their fathers, that kind of thing. They came for a big tour that was not only cricket. So this is very important. It's more than cricket."

One of the players the HFC discovered on that trip was Australian Under-19 Theo Doropoulos, who has taken an interest in cricket in Greece. Along with South African-born wicketkeeper-batsman Nic Pothas, Doropoulos has assisted with coaching clinics and teaching the Greek national side the basics. Pothas, who is now based in England, where he has spent nearly a decade playing for Hampshire, is also going to be involved in a series of training camps as he develops his relationships with the Greek team.

"The Hellenic Cricket Federation found me on Facebook and asked if I was Nic Pothas the Greek cricketer," he said. "I don't usually entertain messages from people I don't know but I replied to this one and we started chatting. I was properly amazed by how passionate they were."

Pothas is "100% Greek, not one of those people who just say they are Greek", and reads, writes and speaks the language. Most of his family still lives in Greece, and he has been a regular visitor to the country. Having only recently discovered that they play cricket, he is now hooked. "It's always nice to give something back, and to see people playing cricket just for the sake of playing is so refreshing.

"Talent-wise they are fantastic. But they need help with some of the basics, things like field placings and developing a cricket culture."

For Pothas, who was schooled at King Edward VII in Johannesburg, the customs of cricket are sacred, and he wants to be able to pass that on. He only played three ODIs for South Africa but has spent almost two decades as a professional cricketer, and said he wants to show others that it is possible to do that, even without reaching the top tier.

"I want to make sure that young kids can work within a time frame of maybe 20 years and build a career. I have made peace with knowing I could have performed at international level and I'm proud of what I have done outside that. It can be the same for some of these guys."

Pothas just may be the Greeks' ticket to county or club contracts, and he has already started taking age group sides from England to Corfu so the Greek teams have opposition to compare themselves with against.

"Sometimes you can perceive yourself as good but you need to be able to measure that," he said. For the Greek team, it is particularly important that they are able to quantify their abilities, because unlike some of their neighbours they are trying to create a team of which the spine consists of born and bred Greek players.

Already they have succeeded in getting the game to be played all year round, instead of just in summer, with an indoor league for the winter months. "When we only played between May and October, all the kids would disappear to football or to basketball and then we would have to find them again and convince them to play cricket. Now they play the whole year," Nikitas said.

Cricket in Greece is mainly played in Athens and Corfu but Nikitas hopes it will spread to other islands as well. For now, they hope to strengthen the sport in the country's capital and have asked for another ground, because the one they currently use is shared with horse riders and is too far from the city centre.

The government provides most of the HCF's funding, despite the country's national financial crisis, which has been worsening. "This year we will get 20% less than what we get every year, but it's still enough. It will not be a problem because we also get US $25,000 a year from ICC Europe," Nikitas said.

Off the field as well, Greek cricket is taking strides. In 2011, they had Tom Smith's Cricket Umpiring and Scoring Book translated into Greek, using people from the island's university. The terminology proved tricky in some cases because the Greeks have invented some of their own words for a few terms, Pothas said.

From rule books to making use of the diaspora, the HCF's efforts are being made with a view to qualifying for the European Division One and, as Nikitas said with a wistful look in his eye, maybe one day for a World T20 spot.

"We have a very good team," he says. "We don't have very fast bowlers, but we have medium-fast and spinners. When you see Greek cricket, you will see that it has its own style."

With an ancient and revered castle overlooking the ground and the possibility of a ball landing in a teacup in a café by the boundary's edge, in Corfu they most certainly do.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • on February 12, 2012, 15:12 GMT

    so cricket does exist outside the UK in europe............btw Vasique Ahmed........Firdose Moonda is a lady!

  • on February 12, 2012, 7:03 GMT

    ....awesome very heart touching cricinfo....a special thank to firdous...his writings are absolute brilliance...very good article...that shows cricket is the game of love,joy,peace....insha allah wud love to b in europe and play cricket...kudos firdous

  • on February 12, 2012, 2:08 GMT

    This sport needs to go worldwide

  • rahulcricket007 on February 11, 2012, 20:04 GMT

    CRICKET IS RISING SHARPLY . IF ICC PROMOTES ASSOCIATES NATIONS THEN THEIR WILL BE A LOT MORE COMPETANCE IN CRICKET TOO .MY PREDICTION FOR SEMIFINALISTS OF 2023 WC ARE : IRELAND , AFGHANISTAN , GREECE , NETHERLANDS .

  • nskaile on February 11, 2012, 18:46 GMT

    icc needs to WAKE UP and help these countires who are showing interest in this game instead of wasting millions of dollars eve year on HOPELESS USA CRICKET

  • on February 11, 2012, 10:26 GMT

    Vic Nicholas, even if the quoted figure of '400,000 Greeks in Melbourne' is not strictly accurate, it is true to say that Melbourne has the third largest population of Greek descendants after Athens and Thessaloniki. Cricket in Kerkyra/Corfu is a bit of a quaint oddity more than anything serious or skilful, but fascinating to see where a game of cricket can occur.

  • universal.rampage on February 11, 2012, 6:48 GMT

    John le carre in his autobio A Perfect Spy describes cricket on Corfu. Its been a vacation spot for a long while now.

  • dunger.bob on February 11, 2012, 5:18 GMT

    Great story, I really enjoyed it. Another great example of sport being the perfect ice-breaker. .. Like art, it knows no boundaries and can be enjoyed by people from all parts of the globe. .. Good luck to the Greeks and the people supporting them. .. it would be nice to see the game really take off there. .. no doubt the Greeks would bring there own style to the sport so it could only be good for everybody.

  • on February 10, 2012, 22:28 GMT

    nice stats and story ..... enjoyed it thoroughly

  • maddy20 on February 10, 2012, 19:26 GMT

    Its good to see more and more nations being more enthusiastic about cricket. Sadly the ICC's haywire policies ensure that very limited number of teams make it to Int'l level. We should have a WC of 20-odd teams atleast if cricket is to compete with football. What a lovey ground. Fancy playing cricket there!

  • on February 12, 2012, 15:12 GMT

    so cricket does exist outside the UK in europe............btw Vasique Ahmed........Firdose Moonda is a lady!

  • on February 12, 2012, 7:03 GMT

    ....awesome very heart touching cricinfo....a special thank to firdous...his writings are absolute brilliance...very good article...that shows cricket is the game of love,joy,peace....insha allah wud love to b in europe and play cricket...kudos firdous

  • on February 12, 2012, 2:08 GMT

    This sport needs to go worldwide

  • rahulcricket007 on February 11, 2012, 20:04 GMT

    CRICKET IS RISING SHARPLY . IF ICC PROMOTES ASSOCIATES NATIONS THEN THEIR WILL BE A LOT MORE COMPETANCE IN CRICKET TOO .MY PREDICTION FOR SEMIFINALISTS OF 2023 WC ARE : IRELAND , AFGHANISTAN , GREECE , NETHERLANDS .

  • nskaile on February 11, 2012, 18:46 GMT

    icc needs to WAKE UP and help these countires who are showing interest in this game instead of wasting millions of dollars eve year on HOPELESS USA CRICKET

  • on February 11, 2012, 10:26 GMT

    Vic Nicholas, even if the quoted figure of '400,000 Greeks in Melbourne' is not strictly accurate, it is true to say that Melbourne has the third largest population of Greek descendants after Athens and Thessaloniki. Cricket in Kerkyra/Corfu is a bit of a quaint oddity more than anything serious or skilful, but fascinating to see where a game of cricket can occur.

  • universal.rampage on February 11, 2012, 6:48 GMT

    John le carre in his autobio A Perfect Spy describes cricket on Corfu. Its been a vacation spot for a long while now.

  • dunger.bob on February 11, 2012, 5:18 GMT

    Great story, I really enjoyed it. Another great example of sport being the perfect ice-breaker. .. Like art, it knows no boundaries and can be enjoyed by people from all parts of the globe. .. Good luck to the Greeks and the people supporting them. .. it would be nice to see the game really take off there. .. no doubt the Greeks would bring there own style to the sport so it could only be good for everybody.

  • on February 10, 2012, 22:28 GMT

    nice stats and story ..... enjoyed it thoroughly

  • maddy20 on February 10, 2012, 19:26 GMT

    Its good to see more and more nations being more enthusiastic about cricket. Sadly the ICC's haywire policies ensure that very limited number of teams make it to Int'l level. We should have a WC of 20-odd teams atleast if cricket is to compete with football. What a lovey ground. Fancy playing cricket there!

  • njr1330 on February 10, 2012, 19:08 GMT

    Someone has said Theo Doropoulos is not Greek...well, with that name he's certainly not bloody Welsh !!

  • on February 10, 2012, 18:27 GMT

    Yes Cricket is a worldwide sport.

  • Venkat_Gowrishankar on February 10, 2012, 15:28 GMT

    Its good to see that there is a genuine interest in the local population, which i believe is the actual driver for a good cricketing nation. But looking at the support they recieve ( $25,000 ) this is where ICC or most cricketing nations need to support more. I mean , we have contracts in the IPL worth millions of dollars for an individual; just a meagre 15 % of the contracts re invested in cricket development would do wonders to the popularity and the growth of the game, sadly though i believe ICC never has this vision. I am from Canada and personally i believe the Talent and the Infrastructure is far superior compared to the other associate nations, but who would take up cricket as a full time job, this is what is killing the sport in the associate nations. The cricketing organizations need to step and provide more financial support.

  • on February 10, 2012, 14:12 GMT

    Cricket is played ALL OVER EUROPE and it is time that this fact gets publicised. I played at the Marina ground for Austria against Greece in the ECC Trophy of 1999 and it is great to see the ground thriving. Great article and I hope there will be lots more on European cricket.

  • Noman_Yousuf_Dandore on February 10, 2012, 14:01 GMT

    Lovely stuff, very heart-touching! Thanks for articulating it!!

  • thirdmanboundary on February 10, 2012, 12:37 GMT

    Thanks, Firdose, for another intriguing, expansive story. As a South African, I'm always delighted to encounter your writings on cricinfo. There is so much great writing here by Pakistani, Indian, Australian, and English writers in particular. But until you came along, the South African efforts were dismal. I remember Gary Kirsten trying his hand at writing. The man was a terrific player and is a world-class coach, but his prose was third-rate, totally stilted. So thanks again for your animated writing and for your creative excavation of all sorts of buried stories, like this delightful, heartening account of Corfu's cricketing renaissance.

  • on February 10, 2012, 11:40 GMT

    400,000 Greeks in Melbourne!?! Just like the Greek economy which has tanked on the back of lies, it seems even their cricket administrators cannot be trusted. According to the census, there are LESS than 400,000 Greek origin Australians across the WHOLE of Australia. Theo Doropoulos great grand parents were not even Greek and certainly did not speak the language - but let's not let the facts get in the way of a good story.

  • Aussiegreekcricket on February 10, 2012, 10:06 GMT

    Great story, I was part of the first tour by the AussieGreeks in 2010. It was my first trip back for 25 years and my son's first trip to the home of his roots. What a better way for a talented young cricketer with an Aussie Greek Dad and English mum to get a completely different slant on cricket and life abroad in general. We will be back playing in late August 2012 just prior to the ICC Euro Tournament. With the economic situation in Greece what a better way is there to get tourists from Down Under to help kick along the Greek economy than thru its national sport. The Australian Helenic Cricket Federation will be looking forward to seeing our Safrican and English Greek brothers joining us there. With the talent floating around the Diaspora, world group is not far out of reach. Great work Nic Pothas and Zoi to Greek Cricket.

  • D.V.C. on February 10, 2012, 9:03 GMT

    Thanks for the story. I enjoyed reading it.

  • 9ST9 on February 10, 2012, 7:02 GMT

    Good read, I have a British friend who visited Corfu in the spring, a few years ago, and he was surprised to see cricket being played. He told me that there were 13 teams,and now according to you he seems to be correct. People of Greek Origin are spread wide across the world, and it would be good if cricket eventually caught on in Greece. But i don't think it has spread to other parts since, a Greek friend of mine living in Crete has absolutely no idea about the game.

  • on February 10, 2012, 6:02 GMT

    Greek gods to play cricket: Great to know about the spread of cricket in countries like Greece. For a country that supplied great literature, art and mythology to the whole world in the history of mankind, it is only fitting that they embrace the culturally profound game of cricket. No doubt, when they play the game at the highest level, they will play it in the style of the famous Greek gods.

  • Gizza on February 10, 2012, 4:40 GMT

    Great story Firdose! In many cases it is the traditional cricket-playing countries' disapora who plays the game in the country (eg Canada and Hong Kong full of players of subcontinental origin) but here the diasporas who have migrated to cricketing nations are bringing back the game of cricket to their country of origin (Aussies and Saffers of Greek origin). Any method to spread the game to new nations and new peoples can only be a good thing.

  • No featured comments at the moment.

  • Gizza on February 10, 2012, 4:40 GMT

    Great story Firdose! In many cases it is the traditional cricket-playing countries' disapora who plays the game in the country (eg Canada and Hong Kong full of players of subcontinental origin) but here the diasporas who have migrated to cricketing nations are bringing back the game of cricket to their country of origin (Aussies and Saffers of Greek origin). Any method to spread the game to new nations and new peoples can only be a good thing.

  • on February 10, 2012, 6:02 GMT

    Greek gods to play cricket: Great to know about the spread of cricket in countries like Greece. For a country that supplied great literature, art and mythology to the whole world in the history of mankind, it is only fitting that they embrace the culturally profound game of cricket. No doubt, when they play the game at the highest level, they will play it in the style of the famous Greek gods.

  • 9ST9 on February 10, 2012, 7:02 GMT

    Good read, I have a British friend who visited Corfu in the spring, a few years ago, and he was surprised to see cricket being played. He told me that there were 13 teams,and now according to you he seems to be correct. People of Greek Origin are spread wide across the world, and it would be good if cricket eventually caught on in Greece. But i don't think it has spread to other parts since, a Greek friend of mine living in Crete has absolutely no idea about the game.

  • D.V.C. on February 10, 2012, 9:03 GMT

    Thanks for the story. I enjoyed reading it.

  • Aussiegreekcricket on February 10, 2012, 10:06 GMT

    Great story, I was part of the first tour by the AussieGreeks in 2010. It was my first trip back for 25 years and my son's first trip to the home of his roots. What a better way for a talented young cricketer with an Aussie Greek Dad and English mum to get a completely different slant on cricket and life abroad in general. We will be back playing in late August 2012 just prior to the ICC Euro Tournament. With the economic situation in Greece what a better way is there to get tourists from Down Under to help kick along the Greek economy than thru its national sport. The Australian Helenic Cricket Federation will be looking forward to seeing our Safrican and English Greek brothers joining us there. With the talent floating around the Diaspora, world group is not far out of reach. Great work Nic Pothas and Zoi to Greek Cricket.

  • on February 10, 2012, 11:40 GMT

    400,000 Greeks in Melbourne!?! Just like the Greek economy which has tanked on the back of lies, it seems even their cricket administrators cannot be trusted. According to the census, there are LESS than 400,000 Greek origin Australians across the WHOLE of Australia. Theo Doropoulos great grand parents were not even Greek and certainly did not speak the language - but let's not let the facts get in the way of a good story.

  • thirdmanboundary on February 10, 2012, 12:37 GMT

    Thanks, Firdose, for another intriguing, expansive story. As a South African, I'm always delighted to encounter your writings on cricinfo. There is so much great writing here by Pakistani, Indian, Australian, and English writers in particular. But until you came along, the South African efforts were dismal. I remember Gary Kirsten trying his hand at writing. The man was a terrific player and is a world-class coach, but his prose was third-rate, totally stilted. So thanks again for your animated writing and for your creative excavation of all sorts of buried stories, like this delightful, heartening account of Corfu's cricketing renaissance.

  • Noman_Yousuf_Dandore on February 10, 2012, 14:01 GMT

    Lovely stuff, very heart-touching! Thanks for articulating it!!

  • on February 10, 2012, 14:12 GMT

    Cricket is played ALL OVER EUROPE and it is time that this fact gets publicised. I played at the Marina ground for Austria against Greece in the ECC Trophy of 1999 and it is great to see the ground thriving. Great article and I hope there will be lots more on European cricket.

  • Venkat_Gowrishankar on February 10, 2012, 15:28 GMT

    Its good to see that there is a genuine interest in the local population, which i believe is the actual driver for a good cricketing nation. But looking at the support they recieve ( $25,000 ) this is where ICC or most cricketing nations need to support more. I mean , we have contracts in the IPL worth millions of dollars for an individual; just a meagre 15 % of the contracts re invested in cricket development would do wonders to the popularity and the growth of the game, sadly though i believe ICC never has this vision. I am from Canada and personally i believe the Talent and the Infrastructure is far superior compared to the other associate nations, but who would take up cricket as a full time job, this is what is killing the sport in the associate nations. The cricketing organizations need to step and provide more financial support.