So, the crack of willow on leather, the groans of some and the exultation of others as they observe a red ball skitter across a neatly cropped field pursued by puffing gents decked out in white uniforms. A number of spectators have gathered to watch twenty-two otherwise sane men gather together to spend the best part of a Sunday playing a game. In the sunshine. Where there’s no shelter. And the heat soars into the high thirties Celsius at mid-day. Even camels have been known to swoon in such conditions.
So where is this extraordinary place? Throttleford on the Wold? Or perhaps some parched patch in the Aussie outback, having a name with far too many ‘oo’ syllables in it? Or even an acre or so of prime Indian real estate just outside Madras? But no. ‘Fraid not. You miss out on the ‘See Swindon by Torchlight’ prize I was encouraged to offer. For this is Corfu in the heart of the Mediterranean, where, for goodness sake, they play cricket!
Now I speak as a child of the empire. I was born in Bombay (now called Mumbai, though I distance myself from the rebranding). And, although I heartily disapprove of all the bad things we Brits did to India – amongst them, railways, a solid legal system, the establishment of the rightly renowned Indian Army, a multitude of civil servants (well, perhaps not always the latter) – I particularly applaud the cricket, though sometimes wish they hadn’t got so good at it. Having planted the seed, they became the dominant force which, on the face of it, seems a little unfair, particularly to Australians who have come to regard that as their birth right.
But, back to Corfu. Apparently, the first recorded game was between British soldiers and the Royal Navy back in 1823 and so took the fancy of the Corfiots that, a little over a decade later, they had learned the game and formed two teams, the less skilled of which was called Small and – you’ve guessed it – the star players were in Large. These are long gone but there are now thirteen local clubs (out of a total of only 15 for the whole of Greece), and five pitches, with over 100 games a year being played, both at home and overseas – with also, many sides visiting from abroad.
Make no mistake. They take it seriously. Corfu recently hosted the European Cricket Council’s Division 5 Championship. With five straight wins, they won the tournament and were thus promoted to Division 4. Any advance on that? You bet, they’ll tell you. Just you watch us.
So, howzat for a quirk of history? Long may it flourish, say I.