Since the day Ian Botham put the Aussies to the sword at Headingley, in what was possibly one of THE most dramatic sporting comebacks of all time, in 1981, cricket has held an interesting place in the heart and mind of this Englishman.
Of even greater impact, was my experience in the crowd at Old Trafford, as a kid, when my grandad took me along to a game between England and the West Indies, who were at the peak of their powers in the Eighties. I remember the sights, the smells, and the sounds, as if it were yesterday, and the party atmosphere as the Rastafarians and Afro-Caribbean community in Manchester danced, whistled, and laughed, sang, and smiled, as English wickets tumbled to the might and power of the West Indies bowling attack.
In the powerful documentary, Fire In Babylon, you can watch a musical narrative of what became one of THE most fearsome, destructive, successful, flambuoyant and effective sides in world cricket. Not only that, but they became the only team in the history of world sport to remain unbeaten for over a decade.
Captained by Lancashire stalwart Clive Lloyd, who oversaw the tutelage of Viv Richards in his ascendancy to the captaincy, the WIndies side of the 70's and 80's were practically awesome. Awesome, and fearsome. Joel Garner, Malcolm Marshall, Michael Holding and co left teams battered and bewildered. Even if you don't like cricket, you will love the movie ...
Often regarded as merely an affair of snotty, middle class kids, cricket in England has been transformed over the last three decades. Although the game has developed in certain geographical pockets more than others, it has tried to move away from it's image as being just for the posh, and colour and action have been added in large doses, culminating in the Cricket World Cup where the teams all wear bright colours and lash the ball all over the place.
Undoubtedly, the game's spreading all over the world is accounted for by the proliferation of colonial imperialism, and hence it's popularity in places such as Sri Lanka and Australia, and not Hungary or China. As it happens though, despite its quirky nature, cricket nonetheless has a universal appeal which attracts people across a spectrum from all races, cultures, creeds and walks of life, whether rich or poor.
As a kid, I got involved with Droylesden Cricket Club, who played right next to Medlock Leisure Centre, and I went on to play for a club called Charlesworth, in the picturesque setting of the foot of the Pennines, near Broadbottom and Hollingworth.
I could certainly bat and I bowled both medium pace and spin, but was not particularly proficient at either. I could field but I was a weak thrower, and afraid of breaking fingers when expected to make catches. But it was a family environment and again, led by local, dedicated people with a passion for the game.
Although I can remember actually playing for my school team, I was deprived of the opportunity to bat higher up the order than 9,10, or 11, since the team was dominated by much better players. Or so we were told. Wickets would tumble at regular intervals and so my buddy and I rebelled, since we fancied we would muster a much better fight than some of our batsmen. But the order was rarely changed to give us a chance.
As it happened, we would amuse ourselves by smoking hash on the sidelines and taking the piss out of the kids who were taking themselves so seriously. When called upon, we would occasionally contribute by lashing the ball to the boundary with the bat, or by dropping an important catch ...
Cricket Ireland, or Cricket Europe, is comprised of provincial regions, including the Northern, North-West, Leinster and Munster Cricket Unions.
The MCU has a successful track record in grass roots, and developing young talent in the game.
Despite boasting strong clubs such as Cork County and Cork Harlequins, Munster nonetheless remains under-represented at national level, particularly in terms of numbers of available umpires and scorers.
Clubs include teams from Cork, Limerick, Clare, Waterford, Kerry, and Tipperary.
Of prominence in my book is the narrative surrounding the exploits of Clare County Cricket Club. Comprising something of a hotch-potch of dedicated locals, living in Clare but hailing from from far and wide, these guys pulled off a big surprise against all the odds in their own right.
Not quite Bothamesque in their feats, but nonetheless heroic, the players made a mockery of their lack of funding and despite their circumstances of not having a ground, these guys still managed to win their league, playing BOTH their home and away matches away from home!
Furthermore, the club's inaugural international match, saw them take on a Malaga XI in the beautiful backdrop of the Sierra Nevada mountains, next to an Orange orchard, in the South of Spain. And whilst the home side had umpires for the game, I gladly took up my duties as official scorer for the two games.
Make no mistake, cricket in Ireland is a very interesting phenomenon!
With the advent of the exploits of the national one-day side, who have claimed scalps such as England, Pakistan and more recently in the 2014 World Cup, the West Indies, the country itself is pushing towards test status as a nation, and certainly has good enough players to compete at the top level.
Without consistent development, however, or a strategised approach, some clubs are like the rich neighbours, with great facilities, dedicated volunteers, and decent funding. Others are sadly lacking, and can barely scrape together subs for registration, let alone contemplate attracting sponsorship deals to subsidise a decent ground. Amalgamation, might prove to be the way forward.
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