Cricket on the Continent February 25, 2017

Europe digs in for the long innings

Tim Brooks tells the story of a brand of the game that, against the odds, displays an uncanny knack for self-sustenance

Thanks to the drive of volunteers, enthusiasts and expats, the continent has vibrant pockets of cricketing activity © Kriketova Akademie CR

It was an unfortunate coincidence, surely, that Cricket on the Continent was published a few months after the UK's seismic vote to leave in last year's EU referendum. Towards the end of Tim Brooks' excellent compendium of the game on mainland Europe, he invokes the Remain campaign to suggest countries where cricket is a minority sport, such as the Netherlands, Denmark and Germany, would be better off working together - ideally with some sort of help from the ECB - if the game is to carve out a viable niche. Symbolically, at least, England has decided to turn its back.

Then again, as Brooks well knows, European cricket has been clinging on in a variety of inhospitable outposts pretty much from the start. Even the ICC, which oversaw an extensive development programme in the region during the 2000s, has withdrawn much of its support in the era of "contribution costs" and preferential treatment for a select few Associate nations - in Europe's case, Ireland. "A line appears to have been drawn, and continental Europe sits nervously beneath it," Brooks writes.

It is to be hoped that the volunteers, expats and enthusiasts who make up the dots on Europe's cricketing map won't be deterred. There is strength in numbers and Brooks' meticulous detailing of what seems to be pretty much every scratch game ever held, from Gibraltar to Finland via Cyprus, should give encouragement that there is a viable base - even if it is not yet one to make the ICC's media rights department sit up and say "Zut!"

While immigration from the subcontinent has contributed to much of the recent growth - refugees from Afghanistan and elsewhere have been behind the "extraordinary expansion" of the game in Germany - several countries in Europe acquired a taste for the English summer pursuit a long time ago. The Italian Cricket Federation can point proudly to the fact that Nelson first staged a game in Italy in 1793, during the Napoleonic wars, and cricket's part in the founding of two of football's grandest names, AC Milan and Juventus, hints at a tantalising missed opportunity. That historical link is still visible today in Genoa Cricket and Football Club.

Brooks' meticulous detailing of what seems to be pretty much every scratch game ever held, from Gibraltar to Finland via Cyprus, should give encouragement that there is a viable base

Stronger roots were to be found in Germany, where Felix Mendel terrorised many a schlagman (the German word for batsman) with his medium pace in the early 20th century, but it was Denmark and the Netherlands that really took cricket to heart. Danish cricket had an ardent supporter in the aristocrat Captain Hoskjaer, who was behind an 1860s manual that helped establish the sport, which had antecedents in native bat-and-ball games langbold and knatt. In 1883, the Nederlandsche Cricket Board was founded, making it the world's second-oldest national Cricket association (behind the MCC).

However, perhaps due to the obvious links with British empire-building, as well as notions of breeding, class and even morality, European cricket struggled to break out of its enclaves; at the same time football was rapidly embedding itself as the team sport of the masses. "Cricket would not find you," Brooks writes, "in fact over much of the continent it would be a miracle if you stumbled across it." Which leads to the insoluble question: "Is there something about the English that makes them like cricket more than, say, an Italian?"

Ashis Nandy famously described cricket as an Indian game discovered by the English, and demographic changes may eventually succeed where official bodies have largely failed (from its first incarnation as the Imperial Cricket Council, support from the ICC for the game on the continent has been patchy at best). But while Sri Lankans in Italy and Pakistanis in Norway may keep clubs and leagues running, that has led to arguments over how to strike the ideal balance between indigenous and ethnic player bases.

There are obvious similarities between Cricket on the Continent and another recent book that proudly flew the Associate flag, Second XI: Cricket in its Outposts (not least because Brooks contributed a chapter to the latter). The situation has changed somewhat since 2015, with a "post-Big Three" ICC touting its global development credentials again, but as Brooks makes clear, international cricket has hierarchies within hierarchies and the likes of Afghanistan, Nepal, USA and China are of greater interest to the ICC than the majority of its 33 European members. "There is a lot more to cheer for an Irishman than a Belgian," he writes of proposed changes to funding and status.

But that certainly does not mean giving up on the game in Europe (as RC Robertson-Glasgow wrote, "Who ever hoped like a cricketer?") From Saif Rehman, a former player and pioneer of disability cricket in Bulgaria; to Jason Barry, who put cricket on ice in Estonia; to Peter Borren, still the driving force in Netherlands' bid for recognition; to Brooks himself, who finishes his book with a manifesto for the future, there is inspiration aplenty. Brexit may be inevitable, the ICC may have its focus elsewhere but cricket on the continent has always been prepared to dig in.

Cricket on the Continent
By Tim Brooks
Pitch Publishing
£12.99, 254 pages

Alan Gardner is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • cricfan59765908 on February 26, 2017, 17:19 GMT

    Things will change. Eventually either cricket will survive only when expanded or its just going to die. The spread of football is so vast that in the next 10 years more and more people in south asia will also prefer football over cricket. With the expanded 48 team fifa world cup from 2026, countries like india, pakistan, carribean countries, uae, oman, south africa shall see a great chance to qualify for the world cup. As a result, football will be promoted in these countries. Unless cricket becomes global, people wouldnt play it even in big 3 countrie.

  • Jono_M on February 26, 2017, 14:13 GMT

    @Keepcalm, Got to disagree with that thesis. I've been living in Germany for the last 7 years now and follow the DCB page on FB for the last few years too. The growth in club and player numbers is massive and given that a very high percentage of existing players are of South Asian ethnicity I think most refugees are accepted into clubs pretty readily. If that puts some people off joining a club then so be it, but they are the ones losing out, I don't deny that it has happened but as already said, the growth in the game here over the last few years has been remarkable, I won't be surprised if they are able to challenge sides like Holland and Scotland in a few years from now.

  • dj dan on February 26, 2017, 10:17 GMT

    @KeepCalm... Thank you for the reply - I withdraw the "uninformed" part then, as clearly you do have some informed experience - I was just a little concerned that you might be propagating media-driven myths. It's a shame that the guys in Osnabruck didn't find an effective way to manage that situation, but hopefully it'll come in due course, and the only way to break down such barriers is to find ways to get exposure to other communities. On the field, we are all teammates, and that's where sport can be an effective tool.

  • keepcalmandslaptheumpire on February 26, 2017, 9:22 GMT

    @DJ DAN- I respect your opinion but as someone who travels the world a lot and is an avid cricketer I also intermingle a lot with the natives. I lived in Osnäbruck for about 4 months in Germany where a lot of refugees came including Afghans who mostly knew what cricket was but barely any had played it or knew the proper rules. I was glad at first as the aid agencies did give them plastic equipment to play with and they seemed happy but the native German children didn't want to go near them as they played and their parents were probably telling children to stay away as it wasn't a problem with other middle-eastern children as a few Syrians joined in. Yes the main problem is getting the locals to get into the game, but by flooding countries with expats who have a bad reputation in the country isn't the way it's going to happen and will have the opposite effect. My comment was not uninformed but merely from personal experience.

  • Victoriancricketer on February 26, 2017, 6:17 GMT

    Maybe I'll write a book about cricket in the Americas. The first international sporting event was a cricket game between the Canada and the USA. Argentina was a top Associate side 10 years ago.

  • dj dan on February 25, 2017, 18:55 GMT

    "Keep Calm and Slap The Umpire" - also a terrible username - I'm sorry but that's an awfully cynical and uninformed comment. Refugees are stigmatized by certain idiotic sections of the media and population, but there are a lot of normal people who will give other normal people a fair chance. And the idea in many cases is that the refugee will go on to become a normal local native citizen, and their children will be natives, so they certainly need to be included (as any other people). From actual experience, in many cases the real key is just getting normal local people involved somehow, give them a chance to try the game. Not everyone will love it, but there's certainly opportunities to carve a niche and get some locals interested, and that's absolutely vital if the sport is to grow further than just being an expat enclave in most countries.

  • PJtheBarbarian on February 25, 2017, 18:19 GMT

    Despite having cricket federations, participation in cricket by the nationals of many European countries is statistically zero. It is limited to your traditional Anglo-Saxon expat and now the new arrivals of refugees and people from the sub-continent.

    These federations receive generous grants from the ICC even though overall participation can be as low as membership of a single cricket club in England.

    I've never understood the missionary zeal with which some try and bring Anglo-Saxon culture to less "fortunate" places. If any cricket happens in isolated pockets of Europe, so be it, but noone should be holding their breath about your average European's desire to play ther game.

  • keepcalmandslaptheumpire on February 25, 2017, 14:47 GMT

    If anything refugees bringing the sport are going to depopulise cricket. Most people in Europe with refugee populations despise them and seeing whatever lifestyle they live is only going to make them detest it and asscociate cricket with people who are a burden on the state. The English businessmen bringing it to their companies and organising friendlies between other companies are more likely to popularise it even if it's slow but you cannot consider any growth in interest in crcicket due to refugees as they are not natives.

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