Those of you who know me will know how much I enjoy playing cricket. The last New Zealand summer (2012 - 13) was to be my much anticipated 30th season with my beloved Celtic Cricket Club, unfortunately however we had a life change that saw us experiencing the harshest Moscow winter in 100 odd years while my clubmates enjoyed one of our hottest summers in years.
Luckily my brother Karl is a pretty keen cricketer as well and has been playing for a local Finnish team for the past 3 years and managed to get me into his side for this Finnish summer.
At home I spent many years on the Management Committee or as Chairman of the Marlborough Cricket Association, where we would always receive complaints from clubs under our jurisdiction about the poor quality of our grounds and facilities, which always baffled me as our grounds were among some of the best in New Zealand. Consequently cricket in Finland was an eyeopener to say the least.
In Finland cricket is a minor sport played on a national level, ie there are no districts or sub-associations which arrange their own competitions, everything is done under the Finland Cricket Association banner, meaning that you can play anywhere in Finland, or even Estonia if you are in the same division as them. There are 2 divisions with a promotion - relegation system, which play a home and away 40 over competition, with the top teams from the 2nd Division having a chance to go up to the 1st Division the following year. On top of this there is an open T20 competition split into 2 groups with the top teams going through at the end of the season to play the final. It all seems quite well organised for such a minor sport although it seems this is handled by British and Australian expats who have had experience of the sport back home.
The players are a mix of expats and locals, with players from the Sub-Continent making up the largest group followed by Poms, Aussies, Saffers and Kiwis, so there are a real mix of languages and accents and general inter-racial banter on the field.
Facilities are something else, there is a single grass field in Finland with a good artificial wicket block at Kerava, the home of Cricket Finland. At present the ground is surrounded by a picket fence and has a couple of practice wickets. A pavilion at the ground is still under construction, so currently players use a portable gazebo as a changing shed. This ground would rate along with many club facilities in New Zealand and anywhere else the game is played for that matter. The remainder of grounds are gravel based fields, where a coconut mat is rolled out in the middle to bat and bowl on. The gravel outfield can transform a brand new match ball into a sub-standard practice ball within 5 overs.
|T20 match at Turku, note the gravel outfield......|
I played for Stadin Kriketti Kerho (Stadi Cricket Club) while in Helsinki, which was a team made up mainly of ex-pats and a couple of Finns for good measure.
My first game for the club was the first time I have ever played cricket on anything other than a grass outfield and the first time I have played cricket while the boundary was surrounded with piles of snow. It was to be a baptism by fire as we fielded first and I got to open the bowling, albeit a little rusty. It seems that the hard and fast outfields with short boundaries encourages the batsmen just to go for it from the start. All those bowlers out there reading this will understand the frustration of bowling your ring out only to have some twat at the far end close his eyes and swing his bat wildly snicking you through square leg for 4 or even worse hoiking you over cow corner for 6. With the moisture around the ground from the snow melt and the gravel outfield the ball was buggered by the 5th over, in fact it was so bad that if you were presented with a ball of equal quality at a practice net in New Zealand you would refuse to bowl with it. Well they bashed us around the park for 180 odd that afternoon, while I luckily managed to snare a 5-wicket bag, and when we batted they rolled us for about 80, so not a good way to start the season. Luckily we found our form in subsequent games and with the return of a few key players we have been a leading contender for promotion to the first division all season.
|Our United Nations team enjoying the Finnish summer.|
While the standard was a drop even from the 2nd grade I was playing back home, it was a most enjoyable season, with plenty of laughs along the way. With about 8 different nationalities in our team there was never any shortage of racial stereotypes to be laughed at or made fun of especially by our Aussie larriken, Pete, getting to the stage where I couldn't even say a thing as a kiwi without having the piss taken out of my kiwi accent (or ees that keewee to you Ockers ?). Many games almost descended into complete anarchy, with the Aussies never backing down from sledging anyone in the opposition and many of the opposing Asian players seeming to blow their fuses pretty quickly and not appreciating the legitimacy of an LBW dismissal, so all made for interesting (if not explosive) cricket at times.
The team are currently dong well, having made the semi-finals of the T20 competition and qualified for the opportunity to play the promotion relegation match to seek entry into the top division for next seasons 40 over league, so good luck fellas, and thanks for giving me a run. Good luck also to the Finnish Cricket Association who are doing a great job of growing the game in Finland, hopefully they will see the day that they can field a Finnish side full of locally grown players and aren't reliant on the ex-pat community for their numbers.
If you are in Helsinki and looking for a team to join, pop on down to Club Aussie
and ask for Pete, (he's the filthy Australian behind the bar generally....) he'll put you in touch with the right people.
|What cricket is all about............ Enjoying a well earned cold beer after an early win.|