CLOSE-IN: Viva European Cricket in Malaga (IANS column)


The United States, a nation that substituted the game of cricket with baseball many moons ago, seems to have gradually accepted the sport in its new avatar. A few of the T20 World Cup 2024 matches will be held in America and this will be just the catalyst and a precursor to the Olympics in 2028. After all the first International cricket match ever was played between the USA and Canada in 1844 in present-day New York.

The Cricket World Cup’23 being held in India has shown that teams that one felt were minnows are now accelerating to compete with the best. The Netherlands showed that by beating South Africa, whereas the reigning champions England were humiliated by Afghanistan. These two results have brought about a transformation and an awakening to the fact of emergence of other newer nations coming forth in the future.

The Olympics and the World Cup news are important milestones to revel in. However, the most astounding discovery that I came across was the European Cricket championship taking place on a scenic ground in Cartama, in the province of Malaga, Spain. The picturesque setting, with mountains and trees surrounding the venue, reminded one of cricket grounds that stood for beauty. A far cry from the cricket stadiums of today. It brought back memories of village cricket in England in the days gone by.

The players and hospitality tents with colourful banners and flags surrounding the ground were a refreshing sight. The cheers of encouragement, clapping and appreciation of performances as well as humorous banters took one back to the days when cricket was truly an enjoyable sport for the players and the spectators.

The championship was a battle for cricket supremacy between 31 European countries. It involves 144 matches and is being played in the new shorter format of the game as “T10” (10-overs-a-side). The month-long competition has finally dwindled to a Super Six stage and the teams that are vying for the trophy are England, Netherlands, Spain, Italy, Jersey and Germany.

Big hits into the lush hillside and bushes were the order of the day. The matches have 18 cameras capturing every aspect of the game. Umpires have the option for a decision review and spectators have live television coverage as well. The matches are being televised as well as are available on digital platforms, capturing eyeballs around the world.

The ball-by-ball commentary by Vinny Sandhu and Rico Phull, two enthusiastic, knowledgeable and fun-loving personalities captured the mood and essence of the live happenings in a jovial and enjoyable way. The two of them were full of beans, relaying every match without a stutter or the need to get someone to replace them. They were like the famous “Two Ronnies” with similar humour and nonsensical banter. A six was a long-drawn “Maximo”.

One gathers that “Bhojpuri” commentary was extremely popular in the last Indian Premier League. One wonders if this is the trend of slapstick humour that will capture the fans of the future.

The initiative to get Europe permanently sealed into the map of cricket was the brainchild of Daniel Weston, the founder with Roger Feiner as the CEO. With the blessings of the ICC and 31 European countries associated with them, cricket has just blossomed in Europe. Spain and Switzerland have more than 30 club teams registered, whereas Germany boasts of 375. The clubs around Europe are mushrooming and cricket is finding its niche in every corner.

The onus is on the International Cricket Council (ICC) on how it will capture the enthusiastic cricket-playing countries and create facilities for them to thrive in. This is extremely important for cricket to sustain its growth and junior-level activities of promoting it at the lowest level is very essential. Furthermore, grounds and academies need to be developed and the ICC needs to put its finances into it.

Cricket in the Olympics in 2028 is just the gate to entering a sports arena that is revered by the world. The Olympic motto of “Faster, Higher, Stronger- Together” is just the words that the ICC needs to capture — not just six teams but at least 20 more to participate in it. The 2032 Olympics in Brisbane would be ideal for them to aim for, after all, Australia is a country that lives and breathes the game.

The T10 format is a far more suitable one to get more teams into the fray. The shorter the version of cricket, the less the difference between sides. After all, participating is more important than winning.

Cricket is the fastest-growing sport around the world. Lovers of the game are establishing and spreading it like never before.

The wonderful setting in Malaga has proven that “Viva Spain and European Cricket”.

(Yajurvindra Singh is a former India cricketer. The views expressed are personal)



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