In spite of confusion among Colombians about the exact nature of the sport, the birth of the Colombian Cricket Federation and its upcoming first ever international tournament stirs hopes for a revival
While it is certainly not the first sport you would associate with Colombia, a group of cricket fanatics have sparked its renaissance, culminating in the upcoming Amazon Cup and hopes of qualifying for the 2015 South American Cricket Championship in Chile for the first time.
On October 4-5, Colombia will host Brazil and Peru here in Bogota, playing the Twenty20 format, which is a shortened and faster-paced version of the traditional test match format, with coffee presumably replacing tea as the refreshment of choice at game intervals. The event will be the first international played by Los Cafeteros – can we dub them Los Cricketeros? – since facing Costa Rica in 2010.
|“Cricket is a funny one really: people who like it tend to be quite obsessed, while people who don’t understand it are utterly baffled by the fuss.”
After a spike in interest in recent years, fuelled by an increasing number of expats taking to the stumps in their whites in Colombia, Andrew Wright formed the Colombian Cricket Board (CCB) in June this year, aimed at boosting the sport’s profile in the country.
As Wright explains: “Despite cricket being on record in Colombia since the early 1900s, the institutional structure has always been poor and depended on a few individuals. The board was established to build a more formal, long-term developmental structure to build on the good work that has already been done.”
CCB President Wright hopes the new body can help attract Colombians to join expats and expand cricket beyond the country’s two powerhouses, Bogota and Cali. By providing coaching in schools and establishing competitive structures, the CCB even hopes to shortly launch a Bogota Premier League between the capital’s leading club sides, the Bogota Indians, Cedritos CC and Bogota Sports Club.
The growth of the sport here in Colombia and the creation of the CCB has given Wright hope that the sport can really push on. “One and a half years ago we had one team in Bogota and one in Cali, now we have three clubs competing in Bogota, a youth team in Cali and a recently-reformed Medellin Cricket Club.”
“Our plan is to get the clubs accredited with the local Colombian sports authorities and build towards recognition with Coldeportes and, in turn, the International Cricket Council.”
“This is a five-year plan,” he explains. “We need to have eight active adult teams (we now have five) and active youth competition for ICC accreditation.”
Regarding Colombia’s chances at the upcoming tournament, where they will face two ICC affiliates, Wright is optimistic: “We have played ICC affiliate nations before and won against a Chilean XI and Costa Rica, so we are confident that playing at home at altitude, we will be competitive.”
CCB secretary and Bogota-born wicketkeeper Jairo Andrés Venegas is keen for more Colombians to get involved: “It’s a great honour to be the first Colombian selected to play for the national team. Hopefully more of my compatriots will follow in my footsteps and learn to enjoy and love this great game.”
The problem up until now has been that few Colombians know much about the sport and they are reluctant to move away from more traditional sports.
Olly West, a member of the provisional 17-man squad for the triangular Amazon Cup, tells us that “the large majority don’t even know what [cricket] is – often confusing it with croquet – but those that have a go playing with us tend to enjoy it and stick around. Cricket is a funny one really: people who like it tend to be quite obsessed, while people who don’t understand it are utterly baffled by the fuss.”
|A spike in interest in recent years [is] fuelled by an increasing number of expats taking to the stumps in their all whites
Yet when you delve into it, he jokes, cricket in Colombia is very similar to the United Kingdom: “Having played cricket in London from the age of four, several aspects are pretty similar. I get funny looks on public transport for the weird bag of kit I’m carrying, the English players are often upstaged by Aussies or Indians, the weather is usually overcast, and it’s not a proper game if it doesn’t end with a few beers in the clubhouse.”
He does, however, point to one technical difference: “One key difference is that the altitude in Bogota makes it pretty hard to get the ball to swing (divert from its original path) through the air, which is a major tool in the armoury of most bowlers.”
He adds: “As we play on artificial pitches, spin bowling is pretty tough.”
Pointing to the examples of Argentina and Brazil, West explains that it is important for children and schools to embrace the sport in order for it to be taken to the next level.
“Cricket may never be what football is here, but I think Colombia could do with more variety in its sporting culture. As more Colombians travel abroad and more foreigners arrive here, it is a healthy development to see more cricket in Colombia- in the same way we are seeing more salsa in London!.”
|About The GameOrigin:
Born in southern England in the 16th century, cricket grew rapidly during the Industrial Revolution as the sport spread across the British Empire. Initially deeply divided along social class lines, one of the most popular and fiercely competed early games was the Gentlemen vs. Players match that saw the aristocracy playing as amateurs against their wage-earning working-class rivals.
The first international match was held in the mid-19th century with England’s rivalry with Australia giving birth to the game’s most famous Test – or match – series, The Ashes, in 1882.
During the twentieth century, cricket became the most popular sport in South Asia and parts of the Caribbean, with Australasia and southern Africa also enjoying a huge following.
Over the last few decades variations in the game’s rules and format have been introduced that have opened cricket up to new fans. The most recent development saw the launch of the Twenty20 format that condensed a game into just a few hours in comparison to the Test match series that can last up to five days and includes special rules for when to take lunch and tea breaks.Cricket in Colombia:
Introduced to Colombia at the turn of the 20th century, cricket has predominantly been played by the expat community with clubs formed in Cali and Bogota during the post-war period to do battle in the country’s most coveted trophy, the Ambassador’s Cup. At its height in the 1970s, the sport attracted big names from abroad, such as the Cambridge University old boys side the Quidnuncs, who flew into Colombia to contest exhibition games with local teams. But the golden era for Colombian cricket didn’t last long and by the 1980s, political instability had seen expats leave the country and caused player numbers to tumble. While Cali and Bogota continued to play each other sporadically, it wasn’t until 2010 that the two clubs reinstated the Ambassador’s Cup that has since been played twice a year on a home and away format. Plans are now afoot to expand the sport to Medellin where a local club began training this August.
Find out what all the fuss is about! Head on down to the Bogota Sports Club on the Via Cota-Suba on the last Sunday of each month (at worst it is a relaxing day out in beautiful rural surroundings).
Even if you’ve never played before they’ll explain all the basics, lend you all the necessary kit, and make sure you get a good go.
More details on the Facebook group CRICKET COLOMBIA, twitter @BogotaCricket or email [email protected].
By Freek Huigen