In just 15 years, cricket in Estonia has gone from a single team playing at the ageing Tallinn Hippodroom, to a serious, well-funded pursuit, with the national team even featuring on cable sports channel ESPN, weekly Eesti Ekspress reports.
The development has been international too – of 258 registered players, only 18 are Estonian, compared with 76 from India, over 60 each from fellow cricket playing nations Bangladesh and Pakistan, plus a dozen from Australia, Eesti Ekspress writes in its lengthy feature (link in Estonian).
Estonian stalwart Andres Burget, who was there from the very beginning, told Eesti Express that while a decade ago "I knew all the Estonian cricketers at least by sight, now that'd be barely a quarter," adding that he started as an absolute neophyte to the game.
Of the majority overseas players, fortunately a residence permit is sufficient to represent the national side, though this means being in-country most of the time.
For instance star club player Saif Rehman (Pakistan), who recently made history in scoring a triple century for the Tallinn Stallions, one of around a dozen teams nationwide, is not eligible to play for Estonia at the moment, as he is outside the country around half the year, Eesti Ekspress reports.
The phenomenal growth, including the purpose-built ground at Tiskre and a move away from the Hippodroom, usually used for harness racing, is in all respects is the result of the work of Australian national Tim Heath, board member and founder at YOLO group, which operates the Sportsbet.io brand – the sponsor and main backer of cricket in Estonia.
Heath told Eesti Ekspress that he had just passed 20 years since first arriving in Estonia – which he did overland by train from Hong Kong, via mainland China, Mongolia and Russia – partly in search of good programmers given Estonia's tech reputation even then.
Another Heath company, Heathmont OÜ, topped business daily Äripäev's tech firm rankings a couple of years ago, while, most famously, have sponsored no fewer than three English Premier League (EPL) football teams – including Arsenal, currently league leaders, with a further Estonian connection in goalkeeper Karl Jakob Hein.
Other companies to have sponsored Estonian cricket include construction project management firm HML.
The Estonian Cricket Association (ECA) was founded in 2004, while a four-club league followed in 2007.
Estonia became a full International Cricket Association member in 2008, and played its first international match the following year.
Another relatively early indication of the sport's success in Estonia was the visit several years ago of the late Shane Warne, widely regarded as one of the all-time greatest bowlers.
The women's game is also thriving – a recently reconstituted national side played Finland earlier in the autumn, while close to half the team are from Estonia itself, Eesti Ekspress writes.
In addition to the main outdoor season, which starts in May and ends in September and includes both T20 and 40-over variants, the indoor season makes up for the cold and dark Estonia experiences much of the time outside summer, and runs from October to spring-time.
The full Eesti Ekspress piece (in Estonian) is here.
The ECA's official site is here.
Editor: Andrew Whyte
Source: Eesti Ekspress