The ‘thwack’ of leather on willow. The men in white pads attempting to protect their wicket. The crowd applauding when a boundary is scored.
No, I haven’t gone mad. I’m describing the simple pleasures of watching a cricket match, the game seen by the majority of the world as being quintessentially English (though it is massively popular in countries such as Australia, Pakistan, India and many others).
“Many people in countries where cricket is seen as a minor sport (like Estonia) look astonished when you tell them that cricket is the most played bat and ball game in the world. It’s only when they realise that cricket is the national sport in India, that they begin to understand that their country is actually a minority for not playing cricket.”
The above quote from James Ramsden – a British born inhabitant of Tallinn who has played for the Estonian Cricket Team on 10 occasions – illustrates how many countries don’t gave the game a second thought. Thanks to the forthcoming International Cricket Council ICC Division 3 European Championships – which will be played at the Tallinn Hipodroom between 14-16 June – this looks set to change as Estonia will set out to make their mark on a game that is gradually increasing in popularity in the Baltics.
The first cricket match was played in Estonia in 1998 after an Estonian businessman returned from a trip to Australia obsessed with the game and determined to bring it to the Baltics. At first, teams consisted of an eclectic mix of ex-pats (foreigners living in Estonia), Indian Restaurant workers and the occasional Estonian. But as the games continued to be played, interest in the game grew and – not long after Estonia played its first away game against Finland – the Estonian Cricket Board was formed in 2004. The ECA’s aim was to further the promotion of the game and increase the number of Estonians who played cricket. The formation of a domestic league in 2007 and the addition of the annual Baltic Cup has helped the game increase its popularity in the country and amongst native Estonians even further.
“Team Estonia has half Estonian players and half ex-pats on the team,” explains Mart Tammoja, who is the current President of the ECA. “We could send all 11 Estonians out to play but we have decided that a healthy mix of Estonians and ex-pats with great experience will help us to develop game more and get more people interested in cricket. So far it has worked really well. Getting Estonians interested in cricket is not hard at all. We do teach more than 500 kids every year and 99 percent of them enjoy the game and are interested to continue with cricket.“
It’s impressive, especially when you consider cricket can be a tough game for anyone to get into - the rules are seemingly arcane and challenging to explain (I’ve been following it almost all my life and I still don’t understand some of it) whilst the array of strange terms (such as ‘Silly Mid Off’ and ‘Googly’) may prove off-putting for the uninitiated.
“I’ve given up trying to explain it! It’s much easier to give the person a bat or ball and tell them to get out there and learn for themselves,” explains Ramsden, who is also keen to dispel some of the misconceptions about the game. “People think that it lasts five days. While that is true in test cricket, it’s not true in the other formats of the game. T20 cricket is a type of cricket that can be played and completed in under four hours. It’s very fast paced and exciting, and has been created to try and convert those who have misconceptions. There are lots of funny names and complicated fielding positions, and often for the first time, a new person watching or playing the game will feel a bit lost or confused.”
But those who make the effort will find their patience rewarded. At its best cricket is an extraordinary and absorbing game of tactics and skills.
“This what I like most about it,” says Ramsden. “However, the tactics come with experience, and a new person is much better off learning how to hold the bat, or bowl the ball, and let the captain worry about the tactics. Another element that I like is that as a batsman, you don’t get a second chance. In football, if you are through on goal in the first minute, but put the ball wide, you can always think that you have another 89 minutes to score. In cricket, if you are out first ball of the match, then that’s it, no second chances - plus you get to think about it for the next four hours! I’m speaking from experience, when I say that it’s something you try to avoid at all costs!”
The fact that Estonia are hosting the ICC Division 3 European Championships, welcoming the likes of Slovenia and Bulgaria to Tallinn, looks set to be a new and important chapter in the development of the domestic game. Attracting the likes of legendary Australian cricket captain Shane Warne - and his girlfriend Elizabeth Hurley - the championships will put Estonian cricket in the spotlight like never before.
“Hosting the tournament is important for Estonia because it helps us to spread the word among Estonians what cricket is and how it’s played,” says Tammoja. “One of our main goals is to develop cricket in Estonia and get as many young Estonians playing cricket as possible and this kind of tournament in Estonia helps us more than anything else.”
Those who are still wary about the game would be well advised to attend the ICC Division 3 European Championships and cheer on Estonia whilst learning what the game is about.
Even if you finally give up on the rules, there’s still a chance you’ll spot Liz Hurley.
For more about the ECA and the ICC Division 3 European Championships - which takes place at the Tallinn Hipodroom between June 14-16 - go to www.kriket.ee.