It’s one of the fastest growing sports in Europe and even has converts in the US, yet the complex appeal of cricket appears to have missed its mark in Cyprus.
After landing the rights to host the ICC European division four championships for the first time, the Cyprus Cricket Association has hit a small snag – they’ve run out of money.
The event will still go ahead as planned on 8th September, but if a desperate appeal for sponsorship goes unanswered players may have to take the unprecedented step of forking out toward the running costs of the six-nation tournament.
For a nation obsessed with football, basketball and the aesthetic charm of beach volleyball, it’s no great shock that cricket has struggled to make an impact here.
Since setting up the Cyprus Cricket Association six years ago, the sport has experienced some success, particularly in developing young local players through training camps and overseas tours.
Celebrity cricketers have even been drafted in to help as part of the ICC Europe Development Program, including former England captain Mike Gatting who led an MCC squad to deliver ‘the spirit of cricket’ to Cyprus in a profile-raising tournament in 2007.
However, despite their efforts, many of the island’s die-hard sports fans are still blissfully unaware that the country has its own national cricket squad, or that it is perhaps one of the world’s most unique.
It is the island’s cricket loving expat residents and overseas-born Cypriots who really keep the game alive.
The Cyprus national team, captained by 28-year-old South African Cypriot Mike Kyriacou, could be sport’s most ethnically diverse team, comprised of traditional cricketing foes from South Africa, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, UAE, England and India.
With this kind of cricket-playing pedigree Cyprus should have a good chance of climbing from the depths of division four when it meets Finland, Switzerland, Slovenia, Austria and Luxembourg in next week’s tournament.
The shortage of tournament funding is the latest in a series of challenges for Cyprus squad members, selected from nationalised citizens playing in the Cyprus league.
Access to cricket pitches has always been problematic, as four of the island’s five pitches are on British forces bases, the other located behind the fences of the UN buffer zone.
A mere trifle for players representing league teams SriLankan CC, Taj Pavilion, Kings Punjab and Bangladesh – to them cricket is a matter of national pride, life or death, perhaps even more important than that; nothing is insurmountable when it comes to playing the game.
So much so that earlier this year the Sri Lankan team arrived en-masse to the UN pitch with their own cement mixer, tools and materials to give the dilapidated wicket a much-needed makeover.
If the UN ground is unavailable, then it’s back to Nicosia where streets and parks have become an unlikely venue for hotly contested softball cricket, a fast version of the game falling between tape ball and twenty/twenty.
No dress code, no membership rules; the improvised game simply requires a gravel football pitch, broom to shape and sweep a wicket, tennis ball, camping stove and a specially-made, imported albiza wood cricket bat, then, howzat, you have a practice pitch.
Next week’s tournament will be considerably more conventional thanks to the help of the British base who have provided the venue at Happy Valley in Episkopi free of charge. Anything helps.
Despite its international significance the Association relies almost entirely on ICC development funding, as the Cyprus government does not yet contribute to the organisation’s operating costs
. Although the hosting expenses are relatively small, just €6,000 ($10,000) and half the funding needed if the players were to travel overseas to compete the Association is still struggling to make ends meet.
Several local sponsors have stepped up, for example Sports Direct donated the national team kit, but players will be expected to contribute around €100 ($170) each toward the cost of transport, accommodation, participation fees and catering.
“We only have ourselves to blame for that. (The government) has been supportive but it will take some time as there are things that we need to do before we can get government funding,” admits tournament organiser Muhammad Husain. He outlined the importance of the event for Cyprus cricket, “It will help us to promote cricket as it’s the first time an international event is happening in Cyprus. We hope to get cricket some attention and locals into the game.”
Organisers and players are confident that they will achieve a good result at the tournament, thanks to the coaching skills of Terry Holt of Lancashire Cricket Club who spent time with the team this year, “The team has really gelled together and is performing very well,” confirmed Muhammad, “We are the highest ranked team and quite confident of getting promotion to division three.”
It’s going to be a long slog to fight their way through the leagues to division one and a chance to play for a place in the World Cup, but one thing is certain; these guys are determined to do it whatever the cost.