Wisden Cricketers' Almanack 2006

Cricket round the world

Cricket Round the World has reached a century in its 14th year. The inclusion here of Indonesia, Lesotho, Mongolia, Myanmar, Niue and Sudan takes the total of countries, regions and territories included, since the feature began in Wisden 1993, to 103, girdling the globe from the Arctic (see Canada, below) to Antarctica. Reports of cricket in improbable places are always welcome. Please contact Tony Munro at wcrtw2006@yahoo.com.au.

AFGHANISTAN
The 16-team provincial tournament, organised in Kabul in August 2005, might have been routine anywhere else. But Afghanistan is not like anywhere else. The Afghanistan Cricket Federation had organised funding from several different sources, but still could not afford to pay for the players' accommodation.

Hotels in Kabul are expensive, the prices pushed up by Western journalists and businessmen. Even a very low-quality room costs $4 in a country where a labourer's daily wages are less than $2. For instance, the two teams from Logar Province - Logar Cricket Association and the Azam Khan Cricket Academy - were put up in a farmhouse belonging to some of Azam's relatives.

As they had more than 30 players and support staff, the farm soon ran out of rooms. So a big tent was erected outside. But Kabul nights are chilly, and there were not enough blankets, let alone beds. Some had to sleep on the bare earth. There were also transport problems, because the farmhouse was a long way from the ground. Other teams had similar difficulties. Even the national team's players cannot afford their own bat, pads or even boots. There is plenty of talent but hardly any infrastructure, cricketing or otherwise. Two turf pitches have been laid in Kabul, but elsewhere things are much tougher.

Azam Khan's home village of Dabar is a case in point. It is about ten miles away from the only paved road in the province. The local cricket ground is two miles away. Some players ride their bikes while others walk; whenever a vehicle passes, it creates a shower of dust all over their faces. One needs to take a shower before every game. ANDREW BANKS

AUSTRIA
Andrew Simpson-Parker stood down from the Austrian Cricket Association after eight years as chairman; his contribution, on and off the pitch, has been inestimable, and he signed off with 195 not out, the second-highest score ever in Austria. Austria CC Wien completed a double of League and ACA Trophy (North), with most of their players aged under 20. Graz CC was founded, and finished runners-up in the ACA Trophy (South), losing to Salzburg in the final. The British Embassy in Vienna also started a team. Against the Embassy in Bratislava, the Ambassador to Austria, John McGregor, was dismissed by the Ambassador to Slovakia, his wife Judith. MIKE BAILEY

BELGIUM
Belgium were promoted from affiliate to associate membership of ICC in 2005. To celebrate, the midsummer rain finally cleared, and Belgium hosted the European Affiliates Championship in August, but lost the final to Norway. The Under-15 side lost to the Isle of Man by 11 runs in the European Cricket Council final in Rome. The Under-17s, meanwhile, were just off to India. Overall, it was a far cry from the early 1990s, when international cricket meant a day trip to Eindhoven. At home, there were two new clubs: Arcadians CC from Flanders, and Seraing CC from Wallonia maintained the regional balance, and took Belgian cricket to 14 clubs and ten grounds. Royal Brussels CC won the Championship. They were led by Italian international Benito Giordano, the head of the West Yorkshire office in Brussels. Who said there are no real Europeans? COLIN WOLFE

BERMUDA
The euphoria surrounding Bermuda's qualification for the 2007 World Cup dissipated when the annual Cup Match, described by the Royal Gazette as "the island's most cherished sporting institution", was disfigured by a punchup. Cup Match, a two-day game between Bermuda's biggest clubs, Somerset and St George, was being staged for the 102nd time in July 2005 when St George's fast bowler, George O'Brien, allegedly punched Somerset batsman Stephen Outerbridge on the jaw, after Outerbridge had apparently spat at him. O'Brien took 11 wickets in his team's first Cup win since 2000, watched each day by 7,000, more than a tenth of Bermuda's population. Both men were forced to issue public apologies, and St George's skipper, Herbie Bascome, was sacked as the national Under-19 coach. The Bermuda Cricket Board did, however, send O'Brien for winter training in Brisbane (as well as an anger-management course) and named both men in their provisional World Cup squad, along with David Hemp, the Bermuda-born Glamorgan batsman.

CANADA
Canada clinched a place in the 2007 World Cup, earning a vital win over Holland, their first against them in four years, in the ICC Trophy in Ireland. This will be Canada's third appearance in the finals. But they failed to qualify for either the Intercontinental Cup semi-finals or the 2006 Under- 19 World Cup. The senior team's stars, John Davison and Ian Billcliff (responsible for almost two-fifths of the team's runs in Ireland), were unavailable for the Intercontinental Cup. Australian-based Davison had a finger injury, while Billcliff was unable to get time off from his teaching post in New Zealand. The Under-19s suffered a shock defeat to the USA. Centurions, skippered by former Sri Lanka Test player Pubudu Dassanayake, captured their fourth Toronto & District Cricket Association (TDCA) title in five years. One club, Yorkshire, were involved in three ties in the competition, two of them in succession. Indian-born medium-pacer Saurab Patel took seven for seven from three overs for Tranzac against Brampton Trinity in a TDCA third division match. RON FANFAIR

British explorers Matt Coates and Matthew Hancock were forced to give up their attempt to walk to the Magnetic North Pole in March 2005 after Hancock suffered frostbite. However, just before being rescued, they did succeed in playing what was claimed to be the most northerly cricket ever, on the Arctic ice close to the Reindeer Peninsula (78°45´N, 104°03´W). "We managed to get an inflatable bat and stumps,'' Coates said. "Unfortunately, it was minus 45°C at the time, and they broke into a thousand pieces. So we turned the ski poles into stumps and used a ski as a bat. We did have a real cricket ball and a snowman for a fielder. Matt Hancock played one really beautiful sweep shot, even with his frostbite.''

CHINA
In partnership with New Zealand Cricket, Shanghai CC trained ten Level One coaches in 2005, including the first two Chinese coaches, both women. However, there was no immediate sign of results from the much-publicised partnership between the Asian Cricket Council and the Ministry of Multi- Sports, although they did run one course in Beijing and are planning another for Kunming. Cricket in Shanghai continued to boom: league standards improved; a Social League was added to encourage Chinese and women cricketers; and the International Sixes in 2005 had Ian Healy, Omar Henry, Dean Jones and Derek Underwood as star guests. Healy was named bowler of the tournament, but the Van Hessen Hot Dogs made history by becoming the first local club to win it. Many fixtures in Shanghai had to start earlier in the day because a new apartment complex next to the ground blocked out the late-afternoon sun. MIKE TSEMELIS

DENMARK
Cricket suffered a setback in 2005 when 20 minor sports were deprived of their support from the state-controlled Team Danmark. The most high-profile fixture of the year also went badly: Denmark were routed by Northamptonshire in their C&G game in May after water seeped under the covers. It is hard for the Danes to take on top-class opposition so early in the season. "We are forced to produce grass pitches and it is only a few weeks since the polar bears were walking in the Copenhagen streets," said Soren Nissen, chairman of the Svanholm club. Skanderborg claimed a third successive Danish Championship after beating Svanholm in a play-off. PETER S. HARGREAVES

FRANCE
The national team, which beat Kent in March at the Le Touquet indoor international tournament, also won all their four traditional friendlies against Germany and Belgium. But the highlight of the season was a two-day match against MCC at Dreux. France lost by two wickets, but their wicketkeeper Wasim Bhatti scored 108 and was man of the match. Nallur Stains won the French championship for the first time, and an Under-15 championship was created. Dreux won this title at the Bagatelle ground, where cricket dates back to 1866. OLIVIER DUBAUT

GERMANY
The wettest season for a long time left many players, umpires and especially scorers with the Duckworth/Lewis blues. Despite this, the adoption of the 50-over format for one-day games was highly successful. For the first time in their history, the British Army (Germany) were beaten by a North Rhine XI. And on a surprisingly rain-free day in September, Cologne CC won the national championship. WRAYE WENIGMANN

HONG KONG
The good news was that Hong Kong established two new grounds at Po Kong Village: the bad news that we may not be able to use these beyond 2008. Ground development remains the priority for the Association: due to the lack of an international venue, Hong Kong currently have to play home internationals in Bangkok. There are increasing numbers of players, especially juniors and women, but this puts even more pressure on ground availability. JOHN CRIBBIN

INDONESIA
In 2000, Indonesia, the world's fourth most populous country with more than 200 million inhabitants, had about ten indigenous cricketers. Now the figure is around 8,000, and in 2005 an Under-15 national team took part in the first East Asia Pacific tournament, beating Fiji, Tonga, Samoa and Japan. This growth had significant help from ICC, who helped upgrade the administration, train coaches and target primary schools for development. The most unusual event in the calendar is the Bajo Cricket 20s held near the Komodo National Park in Flores. Through the energy of one Indonesian, Laurence Johani, the game has entered a whole new area. In the Bajo 20s players walk barefoot through the bush to play on a mud wicket carved out of a buffalo paddock. Foreign players can enjoy a raw and joyful form of cricket, go to watch Komodo dragons and dive on pristine biodiverse coral reefs. ALAN WILSON

ISRAEL
South Africa had their cricketing disappointments against Australia in 2005-06, but it was a different story at the 17th Maccabiah Games, the multi-sports tournaments for the world's Jewish community. Cricket returned to the games after an eight-year absence with teams from five countries (Australia, Britain, India, Israel and South Africa) and an Under-18 tournament for the first time as well as a senior event. South Africa did have one huge advantage: they were captained by the Test batsman, Adam Bacher. Content to let other players take the stage in earlier games, Bacher came into his own against Australia in the final, with a century that set up a 212- run win, watched by Malcolm Speed, the ICC chief executive. The British took bronze, beating Israel. Australian captain Jonathan Weinstock was named man of the tournament for his batting and wicketkeeping performances. The South African spinner Daniel Harrisberg took the award in the junior competition, also won by South Africa, but with Israel second. At the Under-19 World Cup qualifier in Scotland, Israel won four successive games until beaten by Gibraltar in the final. Batsman Danny Hotz, who averaged over 90 in the earlier games, pulled out of this because he is an Orthodox Jew, and the match was on Saturday. At home, Lions Lod won the league for the fifth time in six years but they lost their first league game in four years, against Tel Aviv. STANLEY PERLMAN

ITALY
Twenty20 cricket came to Italy in the silver jubilee season of Italian cricket. It was the format used for the Italian Cup and Pianoro, who lost their championship title to Gallicano, gained their revenge. In this tournament sides were allowed to play as many foreign players as they wanted - but Pianoro gained their victory fielding a team with eight Italians. SIMONE GAMBINO

JAPAN
Japan earned promotion to associate membership of ICC. The men's team marked the occasion by winning the six-nation East Asia Pacific Cup in Vanuatu, pulling off a remarkable win over the Cook Islands, who needed just ten to win with three wickets standing. But Naoki Miyaji took all three wickets in two overs to give Japan a seven-run win, and their first international title. They were welcomed back by banner-waving cricketers at the airport gate. Japan also hosted a successful MCC tour. Millennium CC won the Kanto Cricket League, the premier domestic competition; this was the first time a predominantly Japanese team had won the title. Millennium celebrated in the manner of Japanese baseball teams, by tossing the captain into the air as high as possible. MASAAKI ITI

LESOTHO
The old heavy roller lies alone and desolate on the edge of what used to be Lesotho's main cricket ground, alongside the Maseru Club. It is all that remains of the game that once thrived among British expatriates in the old protectorate of Basutoland, totally surrounded by South Africa. Other cricketing bits and pieces were carted over the South African border, and the field is now devoted to football, with the roller looking on forlornly. But cricket is clinging on: it is played on Sunday afternoons on roll-out matting on a local college field. The most regular players now are Asian expatriates, but the game has picked up among youngsters of school age, both boys and girls. Lesotho ranks officially among the ICC's affiliate countries, along with the likes of Ghana, Malawi and Mozambique; but when Mozambique paid a visit to Lesotho in mid-2005, they were far superior to a team with ten Basotho players. Despite this, Lesotho Cricket Association chairman Majorobela Sakoane is full of optimism: "We hit bottom and now we're beginning to climb again," he says. COLIN MACBETH

MONGOLIA
It started with a Scotsman, Wilf McKee, who gradually collected the kit and the trophy. In 2002 and 2003, there were season-long competitions between India and Rest of the World, with over 20 regulars. Every week, the match was written up in the Ulaanbaatar Post, the local English language newspaper. The September finals, played in the National Stadium, used the same bit of grass where enormous Mongolian wrestlers had just been fighting for the national championship: nice stadium, uneven bounce. Everyone played with the abandon of beginners; running between the wickets was joyful and selfish, as the UB Post reported. "We were entertained with one of the typical traditional and spectacular run-outs that combine lunacy, beauty and tragedy in a few anarchic seconds, bringing tears to the eyes of even the most hardened observers."

Cricket continues now, but less regularly. And we have never equalled Mongolia's only golf course in terms of harnessing the locals' skills. Due to the length of the grass, they employed mounted spotters, who charged away on horseback after every drive to follow the ball's path. Our outfield, after the rain starts, is so slow that the only way of getting the ball anywhere is heaving it up in the air, and aiming for a fielder who can't catch. The weather is unpredictable, and dust storms, snow and violent thunder can all appear rapidly from a clear sky, but the surrounding mountains make for a spectacular backdrop, whatever the weather.

Other local factors: anybody who bowls fast to a newcomer is looked down upon; underarm bowling is allowed; it is difficult to make the Americans not throw the bat away after hitting and to run straight instead of in circles (one Mongolian hit the ball and ran to the fence to get his four runs); catches are dropped intentionally to make the game interesting and chivalrous. We do allow beers and smokes on the field. RICHARD SANDALL AND BABU JOSEPH

MYANMAR
Viewed by many as a throwback to the country's colonial past, cricket here has often struggled for acceptance, and until recently had all but died out. Due to the country's political isolation, it may be some time yet before there is any repeat of the MCC matches against Rangoon Gymkhana and All- Burma (Maurice Tate had match figures of ten for 72) in 1926-27. But, led by one of Myanmar's most famous action movie stars, 65-year-old Nyunt Win, who began playing when he was nine, the game is enjoying a small revival. Through the efforts of some expat Australians, the country's first permanent (and playable) turf wicket was developed in 2003, at the Pun Hlaing Golf Estate in northern Yangon (formerly Rangoon).

Due to the weather (it's either pouring with rain or unbearably hot) the season is short, from December to February. But there is a national league with eight teams containing an eclectic mix of ages and nationalities, playing a 30-over league and knockout and, if time permits before the hot season, a 13-over tournament. We have introduced the game to schools in Yangon and Mandalay, and the children are enthusiastic. The only real international games at present are between the Ayeyarwaddy Cricket club, based at Pun Hlaing, and the Siam Cricket Club in Bangkok, with the boys from Bangkok winning the Andaman Trophy on their last trip to Yangon. STU BENNETT

NIUE ISLAND
The fielder, high in a coconut tree, throws the ball to one of his 39 teammates at ground level, desperate to prevent his opponent completing the maximum sixth run. The batter, holding the triangular bat, crafted by his forefathers, prepared by an entire family and handed down through the generations, readies himself for the next ball which may come from any direction, depending on the location of the fielder. The pace is frenetic, thanks to local tip-and-run rules, and the atmosphere vibrant, as the spectators sing traditional songs and applaud good play. The field, located in the main village square, has no designated boundary, meaning the rubber ball will be fielded in unlikely places, from the top of a coconut tree to some house's washing basket.

But amidst the action - and where 80 players might bat in a day - there is still time for moral redemption. A series of ducks or getting out to an unlikely catch is a sign that someone didn't listen to traditional beliefs. Time out is called for a meeting amongst the unlucky team and a confession is sought. The question will be asked: "Did one of you sleep with someone's wife or something?" Play only resumes once the guilty party pays a fine - a different slant on the MCC's "Spirit of Cricket".

Niue is a coral island in the Pacific, home to 3,000 people. And cricket, of a kind that would be considered untraditional elsewhere, has a traditional role in Niuan society and is part of the recovery process for a place battered by Cyclone Heta in January 2004. As the first sport adopted by Niuans, it earned a cultural niche: games involved whole villages, both on and off the field, and the host provided a feast. Nowadays it's b-y-o. This match is the main event of a week-long celebration of the anniversary of Niue attaining self-government, in association with New Zealand, in 1974. It is a tradition associated with certainty. As the island moves forward to an uncertain future, it looks outward - and local officials are seeking kit so they can establish "English" cricket as well. TONY MUNRO

RUSSIA
The success of the Ashes led to the revival of cricket in St Petersburg in 2005, and play continued deep into the Russian winter. Unfortunately, the games had to be shifted from the original venue, the Field of Mars (formerly the parade ground for the Tsar's imperial guard), because the local militia regularly turned up and threatened to arrest us. After September, play continued on alternate Saturdays at the Tavrichesky Garden, with a tapeball and metal chair legs as stumps. When it snowed, we shovelled it off and played on the ice, using brightly-coloured tape to bind the ball so it could be spotted in the outfield and bundled ourselves up with thermal underwear and fur hats. JAKE HOOKER

SUDAN
The Anzacs v Rest of the World fixture involving UN peacekeeping soldiers took place in 40-degree heat two days after Christmas 2005 in a suburb of Khartoum on a field normally used for soccer. The ground had a six-foot high brick wall round it, which made a useful boundary. But the wall is used as the local toilet, adding to the lovely smell of Khartoum. On one side was a massive cemetery. Fortunately, no sixes went in there, as the Muslims might have been upset had we chased the ball, and we only had the one. We did have two bats and two sets of pads and gloves, which made changes of batsmen rather slow. And by the end, all the kit was a dusty grey. Both teams wore uniform boots and trousers, with T-shirts and hats. The pitch was swept down to the hard dirt, and the bumps taken out with a shovel as best we could. The Anzacs won by two runs, with two balls left. The umpiring was terrible. MICHAEL DAVIDSON

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