WORLD CRICKET – Gibraltar right up in the Block-hole

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words | Mark Viales

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The Gibraltar Cricket Club is one of the oldest cricket associations in the world having been formed in 1883 and admitted into the International Cricket Council, the international governing body for the sport, in 1969. No one knows exactly when the sport commenced on the Rock, but it was likely brought over by the many British servicemen stationed in Gibraltar as far back as the late 18th century.

The sport has ebbed and flowed since then with the senior and youth sides winning the European Division Two championship twice. The womens’ team won five out of six matches in a tournament held in Birmingham against county sides, a much higher level than in Europe.

With approximately 30,000 residents, Gibraltar has the smallest population of any ICC associate member. “Our strengths lie in our passion and enthusiasm on the pitch, we are all local and we have that extra fight in us,” said Mark Bacarese, a prominent member of the national team and the Gibraltar Cricket Board, “We will not roll over and let our heads down if things go wrong because we are a close-knit bunch.”

Bacarese started playing in school before taking up the sport more seriously in 2002. Although a decent footballer in his teens, something inside drew him towards cricket. “Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that I would be doing this for nine years. You really have to love the sport to get involved in Gibraltar because there are many other sports with a higher turnover of players,” he said.

The Gibraltar national team left for Sweden in mid-August to take part in the World Cricket League Europe Division Two against Spain, Germany, Sweden, Isle of Man and Israel. The conditions were dire for cricket with heavy spells of rain converting the pitch into a slippery surface endangering the players as well as lowering the quality.

It was these conditions that took their toll on a Gibraltarian side that seemed to be cursed as they approached the much maligned tournament. “I am not giving excuses because we should have played a lot better, but there were many obstacles in front of us in this tournament,” Bacarese said. “We had six or seven players back home who would have made a substantial impact but were unable to take part for different reasons. However, we also had number of freak injuries over in Sweden that were mind-numbing.”

Guy Dumas sustained one of these injuries while slicing bread in the canteen for breakfast, sparking a frenzy amongst the staff and players within view. “As I was walking out of the canteen with my roommate Ian Latin, a member of the Swedish contingent told us that one of our players had hurt his hand. We quickly rushed in and saw a pool of blood on the floor, so we followed the trail until we arrived at Guy’s room. We took him straight to the hospital to receive stitches. There was blood everywhere”.

But that was just the beginning. Matty Hunter, one of Gibraltar’s best bowlers and a shoo-in for the starting lineup, was warming up and suddenly slipped on the wet surface, breaking his fibula in the process. “People back home asked how one could break their leg playing cricket, well, the way he fell, unfortunately, he had put all his weight on his leg and it snapped. It was quite unbelievable.”

Despite these setbacks there were, nevertheless, some good individual performances with Adam Orfila managing to get four wickets in a tough match against Sweden, the eventual runners-up.

Israel

Bacarese was confident before stepping onto the field that his side would have a chance against Israel if they executed their game-plan correctly. But following a decent start in the first fifteen overs, it was undone in the last five and the Israelis ran out eventual winners by five wickets. “We didn’t really push on from the good start we had, only achieving 100 runs, and we didn’t bowl particularly well. We did a half job with the bat and then when we bowled. You will never win a game of cricket with half jobs.”

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Bacarese believes that the standard in Europe is improving with many Asian migrants bringing their natural game to their host countries. After a four-year residence, these migrants, many of whom have cricket in their blood, attain the same rights and can qualify for the national side. “Most of these guys have grown up with cricket in their culture. The disadvantage for Gibraltar in this sense is that we do not get enough of these migrants coming in because we are so small. However, this does bode well for native Gibraltarians who want to have a chance at playing at international level.”

Isle of Man

Conditions began to worsen in the match against the Isle of Man with literally an inch of water on the field of play before the first ball was bowled. Bacarese spoke to the coach and umpire during the interval in order to convince them to reconsider their decision and postpone the game. In a difficult game Gibraltar lost by nine wickets.
“Our fielders looked like Bambi on ice. The officials and organisors were under pressure to complete the tournament within the schedule, but the game should have never been played. We rely heavily on spinners and with rain, the ball becomes like a bar of soap, so, apart from the safety of the players, the quality of the game was also compromised. Many of the following games were canceled as a result.

Germany

Gibraltar had beaten Germany two years earlier, but the ‘Llanitos’ realised early on that this was a completely different side. These guys could play and would eventually take the title in the tournament and gain promotion to Division One. “We gave it our all and scored 80 runs, but it was not enough. We pushed them and it took sixteen overs for them to surpass our total,” he said. “We were beaten by a better side. They were faster bowlers and were great with the bat. We could have done better against the first two teams, but we have to be humble here and appreciate the standard we played against. I believe that Germany will compete at the highest level with the likes of Ireland and Scotland within the space of nine years or so, purely because of the fact that cricket is in the blood of many of these migrants.”

Spain

This was the first official match against Gibraltar’s rivals, with Gibraltar winning and losing single friendly matches in the past. But there was no bad blood between the sides with cricket not succumbing to political influence and good-neighborly relations replacing the possible dispute. “We thought that there would be more sledging – a term used in cricket to describe the practice whereby some players seek to gain an advantage by insulting or verbally intimidating the opposing player – during the Spain game, but apart from the odd one or two comments that slipped out, nothing really happened. The tournament was played in the right spirit. Sledging is becoming less frequent and people are focusing more on the actual cricket. It is not in our nature to do it and I have never been a big fan of it.”
Gibraltar lost by seven runs in the closest game in the tournament, but it could have been very different if Gibraltar had capitalised when batting. “We started off bowling really well and the pitch was better. We limited them to 95 runs but when it was our turn to bat, we realised that they had some decent bowlers.”

Bacarese was up to bat in the 14th over and the pressure was on when he looked at the scoreboard and saw only thirty runs marked down. It was a mountain to climb. “Ian and I had a huge task ahead of us to recuperate the lost ground. All in all, we put in a good effort and only came in seven runs short of achieving a good result. We had to go for it and we almost got there. It was the hardest game of cricket I have ever played. There was a lot of pressure as it was against Spain. Gibraltarians aren’t into cricket, but, be it any sport, when it comes to playing against Spain, there is more pressure to overturn them, despite the difference in size.”

Sweden

With the side a little demoralised after losing to Spain, the match against Sweden was pushed ahead even though there was insufficient recovery time for the Rock. “The organisers needed it to go ahead or the tournament would have been considered void. We had a lot of bad luck, but we need to look forward and learn from it.” Gibraltar lost by 95 runs, the highest runs total of the tournament.

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Cricket Facilities

Gibraltar cricket is crying out for more facilities with many youngsters unwilling to trek all the way to Europa Point to play in such a poor pitch made of shale and gravel. “We have had fantastic support from both governments and for that we are grateful. We are also realists, but it is a hindrance that we can only play one game at any given time. In our recent inter-school tournament, we had four games going on at the Victoria Stadium’s main pitch.”

Bacarese believes that the association could offer more to kids if an AstroTurf pitch was laid up in Europa Point that would allow little pockets of games for youngsters. Gibraltar also competes regularly abroad and would provide excellent exposure for any sponsors interested in promoting their brand abroad. “It would help the sport grow and be much easier to manage. We could even have two sports going on at the same time,” he said. “Cricket has been in an uncertain position for the last few years but I hope the Gibraltar Government will take care of our interests.”