Sydneysider Steve Nikitaras will captain the national side of Greece this coming week, as Hellas begin their latest campaign for recognition on the world stage. Nikitaras will be joined by Aussie Andrew Koutsoufis as Greece aim to join the heavyweights of European cricket.
The International Cricket Council’s (ICC) European Division 2 Tournament is taking place in Belgium, with Hellas playing Malta on June 20, to be followed over five days, with fixtures against the hosts, as well as Sweden, Spain and Austria. The prize awaiting the two teams that secure the winner and runner-up spots in the tournament, is a place in the ICC’s European Division 1, and a chance to qualify for the ICC World Twenty20 competition in 2012. Success for Hellas would be a huge boost for the game in Greece, opening the door for qualification as a full member country of the ICC, with its associated funding opportunities.
Cricket in Greece has been clawing its way back from the calamitous events of the 2006 ICC tournament, when Greece was penalised (and relegated to the lowest tier of European representative cricket by the ICC) for fielding a Greek Australian player who was deemed as being ineligible during the tournament; a tournament that Greece was on-track to win. Australian players of Greek descent have played an important part in the success of the national team for the past ten years. For eligibility, players must have resided for at least 100 days and taken some part in coaching or club cricket in Greece.
Joining the squad for this tournament is Andrew Koutsoufis, and Steve Nikitaras who will captain Hellas in Belgium. Steve Nikitaras played Shield cricket for NSW and WA and first became involved with cricket in Greece in 2000, when contracted to English county side Middlesex. A left-arm fast bowler Steve bats right-handed and is valued as a big hitter down the order. Just before heading to Belgium Steve told Neos Kosmos that he felt Hellas’ strength will be in the bowling and that to have a chance.”we need to keep sides under a hundred in the twenty overs.” Steve concedes that “lack of experience and cricketing brains” might be the team’s weak point, but with the more experienced players leading the way, Hellas have a real chance to progress.
Andy Koutsoufis played 1st grade cricket in the Illawara area for 25 years, and has regularly turned out for Hellas when work and family life have allowed, since 2003. Just before his departure Koutsoufis was optimistic. “If we can get a solid score we can defend pretty well,” said the right-arm seamer, whose family hails from Rhodes. “This tournament is very important for us, to show all the other teams we’re back and serious about rising up the divisions and therefore ensuring the game grows in Greece.” Hellas’ coach, 46 year old Costas Vassilas, a former captain of the national side who began playing cricket in Corfu aged nine, believes there is everything to play for. “It’s a strong team and a well balanced side and there are players who can make an impact in any game situation,” he said.
Greece will be playing their matches in Belgium between June 20 and 25. For those wishing to follow Hellas in this vital Twenty20 tournament, the ICC’s website www.icc-europe.org will have live scores and game reports.