CRICKET, tapas and a TV advert featuring footballer Lionel Messi may seem like a strange combination, but it has been a winning one in helping to grow the sport in Spain and across Europe, thanks to the south Asian expatriate community.
In Malaga, the Cartama Oval has become the new European capital of the game, hosting coaching classes for children, domestic competitions and the annual televised international European Cricket League.
It may be a far cry from Lord’s but the ground, in a village around 30 minutes from the tourism hotspot of Torremolinos, has become a hotbed due to the weather, allowing games and coaching sessions to be held during the winter and the nearby tapas restaurants for fans.
Teams from across Europe, led by players and officials from expatriate communities from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, flock to Malaga for the ten overs-a-side tournaments.
Norway, Greece, France, the Czech Republic, Croatia and Bulgaria will be among the nations competing in the European Cricket Championship alongside England and Ireland in September and October.
Gulfraz Riaz, chairman of the National Asian Cricket Council (NACC), has been invited out to Spain and Germany in order to help run camps in schools. He told Eastern Eye: “The south Asian community have played a significant part.
“The sport is stronger in the Catalonia region. It is not the national sport but the locals are very intrigued. Expatriates have got them into administration positions which has helped to deliver it to local schools and they are catching up.
“A couple of players come to the UK in the summer to play club cricket from Spain like Ravi Panchal. You can play ten months a year in Spain due to the weather. Ireland, Scotland and a lot of counties go to La Manga for warm weather training.”
The coaching sessions in Malaga for children see sessions divided in batting, bowling and fielding groups.
Riaz cited an advert World Cup winner Messi did in Spain where he kicked a cricket ball into the stumps and also tried his hand with a bat.
He added: “The south Asian community have a passion and drive for the game, it’s in the DNA, which has helped to grow it in countries like Spain and Germany.
“The majority of administrators are English expatriates. The south Asian community are playing and as they retire can go into administration roles,” he said.
The players involved at this level of the game are part-time recreational cricketers who have day jobs.
Of the 34 active men and women players in the Spain team listed on the Cricinfo website, 25 are of south Asian origin. From the 28 active men and women players in the France side, 13 are from a south Asian background.
And out of the 38 active men and women players in Germany’s national squad, 21 are of south Asian origin. Among the administrators involved in growing the game are Prakash Sidasivan Nair, president of the Czech Republic Cricket Association.
Kamran Uddin, a writer, said: “Although football continues to dominate TV viewing figures and alongside investment and large swathes of society in Britain, cricket is quietly making it’s presence known with the help of south Asian expatriates.
“For many of them, cricket is their lifeblood and something they are so heavily invested in. They play the game regularly with friends and family. It also plays a strong part in their national identity.”
It comes after The European Cricket Network (ECN) expanded its partnership with Cyprus’s Cricket Association in June which includes introducing schoolkids to the game, developing the grassroots level and improving the national side.
Muhammad Husain, chairman of the Cyprus Cricket Association (CCA), said: “The expanded partnership between ECN and CCA is a significant milestone for cricket in Cyprus.
“We are thrilled to collaborate with the ECN to strengthen the promotion of cricket’s presence in Cyprus and invest in domestic and grassroots development, particularly with the introduction of the sport in schools with teachers and school children,” he said.
“This partnership will unlock new opportunities for our cricketers and inspire the growth of cricket throughout the country.” British Asian players are also helping to spread the gospel of cricket around Europe.
Kushaal Krishnakumar plays for Bulgarian team Sofia Spartans and scored a century on his debut in May.
The 22-year-old said: “I am originally from Cambridge. I am a first year studying medicine here at Sofia University.”
On his century he added: “I am trying to hit the ball as I see it. It was my first game for the Spartans and I wanted to get off to a good start.”
Yashmin Harun BEM, chair and founder of the Muslimah Sports Association, said diversity within cricket and across the whole of sport is important.
She told Eastern Eye: “Having south Asian expatriates representing within cricket increases visibility which young people can aspire to and have as role models.
“The fact that there is more south Asian female representation is also significant in growing the sport and making it more accessible and inclusive,” she said.
“Increased representation from south Asian expatriates within both the men and women’s game is a good starting point. However more needs to be done within cricket to improve the pathways to professional levels,” she added.
“It is not enough to have a couple of token players to inspire the next generation. Until diversity becomes normal rather than the exception there is still a lot of work to be done.”