Wisden Cricketers' Almanack 2007

Cricket round the world

Tony Munro

Four new countries - Bhutan, Kazakhstan, Tonga and Swaziland - are included in this year's Cricket Round the World section. This takes the total of countries, regions and territories featured since the feature began in Wisden 1993 to 107

Despite parts of Afghanistan vying with Iraq as the most dangerous place on Earth, 2006 was the most significant year to date for the country's cricketers. While fighting continued in the south and south-west of the country, most of the important cricketing events took place elsewhere, or indeed abroad. The national team was invited by MCC to play them in Mumbai in March, where Afghanistan scored a stunning 190-run victory over a team led by Mike Gatting. Afghanistan scored 361 runs in 45 overs; MCC were all out for 171. Mohammad Nabi ("the best player I've seen since the young Dexter"- Robin Marlar) made a brilliant 116 from only 44 balls, including 13 sixes; Gatting was out for a duck. After the match, the MCC invited two of the Afghan players, Nabi and Hamid Hassan, to join their Young Cricketers in the summer. And in June, the Afghan national team came to Britain for a seven-match tour, including three matches against county second XIs. They won all but one of the seven: Nabi made two more centuries. Disappointment followed in the Asian Cricket Council (ACC) Trophy in Kuala Lumpur, where Afghanistan lost to a weaker Hong Kong team in the semi-final, and so missed the chance to play in the 2008 Asia Cup. With four bowlers capable of 85mph, and good spinners, Afghanistan have a balanced team with a serious chance of qualifying for the 2011 World Cup. The country faces many challenges, but the success of the cricketers is a chink of light. ANDREW BANKS

After scaling the peak of World Cup qualification in 2005, Bermuda's cricketers spent a long hard year in 2006 getting used to the rarefied air. With a national ban on soil imports preventing local groundsmen from putting together anything resembling a decent wicket, Bermuda was forced to play all its international cricket overseas, enduring a series of defeats in the United Arab Emirates and Africa, before finally achieving a win over Holland. While those losses were cause for concern among the cricket-loving public back home, it was the Stanford Twenty20 tournament and the televised massacre at the hands of Jamaica that drew the most scathing criticism. The big occasion, and West Indian fast bowler Jerome Taylor, got to Bermuda. They were skittled for 74, with Jamaica taking little more than five overs to knock them off. The humiliation was compounded by the comments of commentator Tony Cozier, who compared the portly Bermuda bowler Dwayne Leverock to the roller. Jokes at the expense of the players' weight have dogged the team throughout the year, although in fairness to Leverock he has been a shining light in Bermuda's attack.

Off the field, it has been an acclimatisation process too. Bolstered by an $11m fighting fund from the government, the Bermuda Cricket Board eventually put together the best pay package outside the Test world for its cricketers. But even this was not immediately acceptable. The wrangling over the deal should be seen in the context of Bermuda's astronomical cost of living. The average house price on the island is $1.2million and it's possible to earn big bucks with comparatively lowly work, making some understandably reluctant to give up their day jobs. After months of negotiations a deal was finally concluded.

Left behind in the new professional era, though, was the island's premier fast bowler, George O'Brien - ditched for persistently failing to turn up to training. Always a temperamental talent, it was O'Brien who aimed a right hook at an opponent in the 2005 Cup Match, the island's East versus West all-star game. In a bid to avoid a repeat of those scenes, match referee Clive Lloyd and former Test umpires Merv Kitchen and David Shepherd were flown in for this year's contest, which saw the easterners, St George, retain the cup. The arrival of the Bermuda-born Glamorgan batsman, David Hemp, has already added some professionalism to the team itself.

The defeats that Bermuda has suffered internationally have attracted much criticism. But, if anything, they show how far a team representing just 65,000 people has come. They may have been soundly beaten whenever they have stepped outside their comfort zone - losing comprehensively to the likes of Zimbabwe and Kenya. But victory at the ICC Americas' Championship in August, when all-rounder Lionel Cann blasted five sixes in a single over against Argentina, shows the progress within their own peer group. Whether this will allow any respectability at the World Cup remains to be seen. JAMES WHITTAKER

For centuries, none but the most intrepid made it through the steep mountain passes to reach proudly independent Bhutan, in the heart of the Himalayas. The national sport of archery protected the country against invaders, but the Bhutanese were helpless before the onslaught of television. Starting in 2001, Indian TV started threading its way through the highlands and with it came an appreciation of movies, soap operas - and cricket.

"Cricket caught on just because of Star TV and Doordarshan," says former Indian all-rounder Roger Binny, who now coaches in Bhutan. Out of a population of 2.2 million only 200 or so are active cricketers. The ground in the capital Thimphu (2,300m, or 7,500ft, above sea level) is small. And the season is short: it is a cold and windy place.

But the children from privileged families are sent to study in India. There they learn the game and bring it home, where cricket acquires a uniquely Bhutanese flavour. Players bow their heads in supplication to the cricketing gods before taking the field. "We do not pray for victory," says national captain Dhamber Singh Gurung. "We pray for each other to give our best and to emerge complete from the competition." The Dechephu Lhakhang temple in Thimphu is the spiritual home of Bhutan cricket, and cricketers visit before every tournament to invoke the protecting deities. The team has had some success, beating Myanmar in the 2006 ACC Trophy. But Bhutan is no place for bowlers: at that altitude, the ball simply flies off the bat. One bowler, Phuntsho Wangchuk, exasperated by being hammered, has resorted to storing his cricket balls in his father's humidor in order to make them "heavier". However, he may yet have to give up bowling for cherootsmoking. SHAHRIAR KHAN

The overlap with the football season remains the chief burden for those fostering cricket at youth level, but there is still plenty of activity within Danish cricket. This was emphasised in September at Soro Akademi, "Denmark's Eton", with two matches commemorating the first officially recorded cricket there in 1866, and 140 years of the game at the school. PETER S. HARGREAVES

The kids of Basra The children of southern Iraq do not currently have much to laugh about. Thanks to a donation of Kwik Cricket sets from the ECB, we set out to give some of them the chance to experience the sheer pleasure of playing cricket. The logistics of such an innocent exercise are not like those elsewhere. Movement outside the base locations is not that easy for Coalition Forces. The threat is high. To get access to the schools you must first arrange to join a patrol heading in the right direction.

Eventually, I was driven to a small village school near Basra Air Station as part of a heavily armed RAF Regiment patrol; I travelled in one armoured Land Rover, the one behind had a .50 calibre heavy machine gun. We were all wearing body armour and helmets and the members of the patrol constantly scanned every direction for danger. The temperature in our vehicles was close to 50°C. Once we got to the village school, the patrol formed a "ring of steel". Within the now-secure environment, I was introduced to the school's sports mistress, clad from head to foot in black, although her face was uncovered. The children I met were wide-eyed with curiosity, and a little uncertain as to the concept of bat-and-ball games.

However, after some simple explanation of the basic rules of cricket (through an interpreter) and a quick demonstration by members of the RAF, the Iraqi children joyfully hit the ball around the playground. I duly handed over the set to the games mistress and she in turn professed to be keen to allow her charges to play on a regular basis. Next stop Lord's? Well, maybe not in the near future, but if this brings some enjoyment to children who are living in some very challenging conditions, then mission accomplished. Our patrol back to base was thankfully uneventful. ANDREW BANKS

It was a challenging year for Japanese cricket. Unfortunately, the men's team could not repeat their 2005 success in winning the East Asia Pacific Cup, losing to both Fiji and the Cook Islands. But, slowly, cricket is taking root in Japan. Having said that, the university clubs are still having to use a certain cunning to recruit members, such as posting a sentry on campus in full Seattle Mariners uniform saying: "Yes, mate, sign here to join the Baseball Club. We've made a few rule changes, mind." YUMA SHIMIZU

Western expats have come and gone over the 16 years since the former Soviet Republic of Kazakhstan became independent. But, with the capital Almaty now established as the boom town of Central Asia, there is a settled Indian and Pakistani community, and about 15 regular players. This is a place of extreme temperature, ranging from 40°C in summer to - 40 in winter. But summer days can be favourable for cricket, and the game began regularly in 1995 with makeshift equipment made from boxes and broom handles. Now the ACC (Almaty Cricket Club) has real wickets, a couple of brand new bats, a supply of tapeballs and official permission to play at weekends on the tarmac playground at School No. 130. It is inevitably a little makeshift: no runs behind the wicket (the school is there), bowling only to one end, two runs awarded if the ball goes into the bushes inside the boundary; and no lbws - too many arguments. But there is a strong community spirit behind the whole project, with benefits to the school: the grass is being mown, and six wooden benches have been placed nearby where old people can sit. Mostly, however, the locals just peer out, bemused, from the Soviet-era apartment blocks overlooking the ground. ROGER HOLLAND

The year began with the successful Under-19 World Cup campaign in Sri Lanka. Led by flamboyant opening batsman Kaniskha Chaugai, the youngsters won the Plate Championship, defeating two Test nations - South Africa and New Zealand. They became only the second team from Associate nations in the event's history to win the Plate after Bangladesh in 1997. The Under-15s were also triumphant in the Asian Cricket Council Trophy. But the senior team got into the habit of losing when it mattered most. They reached the semi-final of the main ACC Trophy in Malaysia, a qualifier for the Asia Cup and, eventually, the 2011 World Cup. Nepali fans had high hopes, but their chances were marred by the absence of Chaugai, who was studying in the US. And, after a 25-run win over Bahrain, Nepal were bowled out for just 103 by UAE, and lost by nine wickets. Frustrated by the result (and defeat by Afghanistan in the third-place play-off), Nepali fans attacked the lack of initiative from the Cricket Association of Nepal (CAN) and talked on internet discussion boards about stoning the offices. The government thought it was time for change too. It dismissed Jai Kumar Nath Shah, who had chaired CAN for more than three decades, and his committee. Former general secretary Binaya Raj Pandey was made chairman, and immediately began to plan a new national league and other changes. UJJWAL ACHARYA

St Helena
Gavin George, captain of Jamestown B, and the long-standing star of cricket on the South Atlantic island of St Helena, broke the island record by scoring 208 in a 35-over league game. Now 51, he won the season's batting trophy for scoring 507 runs in ten games. But Jamestown B lost their league to their rivals Jamestown Z. And, after a nail-biting final, St Matthew's A just beat Half Tree Hollow A in the knockout. Though his bowling is slower than it was, Gavin still bats No. 3. The openers are his son David and his nephew, Anthony Thomas. Cricket on St Helena is like that. MERCIA CARTER

Cricket has been played in Swaziland for a long time, but it has belonged to the privileged few at the country clubs. In January 2005, a few enthusiasts got together and decided they wanted to take cricket to the masses. They came up with the slogan "Cricket for All", and the game was officially launched. Since then 50 teachers have been given basic training as coaches, and an Under-17 team has beaten a far more experienced side from Mozambique, and done well on tour in South Africa. At the moment, we are using country-club grounds, but our Sports Council has given us a piece of land to develop as our home ground. This will be very expensive, but we will be seeking sponsorships to make this a reality. REV. NEIL WILLIAMS

Cricket in Tonga has a distinctive sound. The national side - the Taiseni, or Hawks - can easily be recognised at any of the Pacific regional tournaments by their distinctive shouts of "Pasi, Pasi" before every delivery they bowl in the field. "Pasi" means "to clap" in the native Tongan language and the Tongans will do just that every time it is shouted, with the purpose of waking up their fielding team-mates and getting them focused and ready to catch. Domestic cricket is growing. A very competitive 14-team senior men's competition was the highlight of the Tonga Cricket Association's year in 2006, a big increase on the nine teams of the previous year. The competition was run on the seven artificial pitches on the main island of Tongatapu. Another island of Tonga, 'Eua, also staged their own junior and senior competitions in 2006. However, the Tongatapu final had to be delayed in December, after pro-democracy riots in which six people died. MARK KENNA

As the 2006 season wound down in Uganda, the groundsman's goats were once again allowed to graze the grass at Kyambogo Oval, and the vervet monkeys, no longer entertained by fours and sixes, were watching the Astroturf strip being dug up to be replaced by the second grass wicket in the country. On the first such strip, at Lugogo, the Ugandan side had played several internationals against Kenya (losing, yes, but putting on a good display of fielding and bowling that kept Tikolo and co on their toes). The ICC chief executive Malcolm Speed came to Kampala to present the Uganda Cricket Association with the "Global Award for Best Overall Development Programme". The award was largely a response to the wonderful Mini- Cricket programme in primary schools. About 17,000 children - boys and girls both - play a basic version of cricket using locally made bats and stumps. They may not have uniforms or shoes, but the sight and sound of young children shaping up for a tremendous pull or shouting "Howzat!" have become familiar and delightful in Ugandan villages. D. A. CHAPPELL

2011 World Cup Qualifying Series
Long before the 2007 World Cup got under way, qualifying began for the 2011 tournament. Norway, comprising Norwegian-born players of Pakistani ancestry, had emerged from the nine-team European Third Division field in Belgium to proceed, along with Greece, to the second-tier tournament in Scotland. Norway duly won that too, beating Associate-member opposition five times, all by substantial margins.

In Scotland, conditions for Norway's match against Israel at New Anniesland in Glasgow were less than idyllic. Due to about a hundred demonstrators protesting against the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, both teams' coaches came with police escorts, the match continuing as helicopters flew overhead. Israel's match against Jersey was abandoned altogether because the only "secure" playing venue had been booked for a children's playgroup. Their match against Guernsey, due to have been played in Glasgow, was switched to the Royal Air Force base at Lossiemouth, 150 miles away. Greece, the other affiliate qualifier, was found guilty of fielding two ineligible players (Greek-Australians), lost all their points and fell to eighth place, thus ensuring demotion to the European Third Division. When Greece huffily refused to play its seventh/eighth place play-off match, its European Cricket Council funding was suspended for 12 months. They were relegated to the European Fourth Division and the association was advised it would need to pay its own way to future tournaments.

Through it all, Norway kept winning: they beat Jersey in the final and go on to the next qualification tier in 2008. The system is such that, though it's a long and winding road for countries like Norway, any ICC country can now win the World Cup.

Elsewhere, Myanmar created history with the lowest team score at an ICC-sanctioned tournament, as Nepal required just two legal deliveries (and five wides) to pass the Burmese total of ten all out at the Asian Cricket Council Trophy. Turks & Caicos Islands, probably the smallest country to compete in a World Cup qualifying match, with a population of just over 20,000, were gifted their Americas Division Three match when Chile conceded 66 wides at the unlikely location of Paramaribo, Suriname. These and other regional tournaments all lead to the World Cup Qualifier (formerly the ICC Trophy) in 2009, which will decide the non-Test world's entrants to the 2011 World Cup. TONY MUNRO

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