Locked in the traditional boundaries, cricket has often been considered as a commonwealth sport — accepted and played only in the former British colonies. Despite all its rich history and tradition, the game hasn’t been able to spread its wings successfully outside the conventional territories. However, there were times when disciples of this great English sport had broken the barriers and taken the game to the alien lands.
Here is a peep into the past to those landmark moments when the game was played outside the so-called traditional cricketing world. From the base camp of Mount Everest to an isolated human colony in Antarctica — the list of these far-flung corners is quite long. So, here's a handpicked list of the most bizarre places where the footprints of cricket can be found.
The Pyongyang Friendship Cup: Cricket in Kim’s land
Yes, the British sport has managed to invade arguably the most covert and hostile nation in the world — North Korea. For decades foreigners were denied access in this secretive country — until in the 21st century, when the government has finally started to issue tourist visas for a few selective parts of the nation. Capital Pyongyang is one of those places, where outsiders are allowed to visit and back on 25 April, 2008, on the outskirts of the city, at Taesongsan Park, the locals heard the sound of a ball hitting the bat for the first time.
It was a six-a-side triangular tournament, named Pyongyang Friendship Cup.
The idea of taking the game to an isolated country like North Korea was a brainchild of Jon Newton, the then President of Shanghai Cricket Club (SCC) and his friends Ainsley Mann, a Scottish Businessman along with Denzyl Allwright, the then Secretary of SCC.
It took eight months a rigorous planning and paperwork to secure 21 Visas and the permission to ship all the necessary equipment to Pyongyang from the United Kingdom. In a country, where citizens are still not being allowed to have a hairstyle of their own, getting the clearance of playing a Western sport, that too involving mostly foreigners, was indeed a remarkable achievement by the organisers.
Finally, the big day arrived. Three teams were formed — two were from SCC — named after two political theses of Kim-II Sung, Juche and Reunification and one from the Pyongyang Cricket Club (PCC).
The players of the two SCC teams were British, Australian and South African, whereas the Pyongyang side included two government guides, one local driver, two persons from the tour company that organised the trip and one guy from the courier company DHL, which shipped the equipment. None of the PCC players had picked up a cricket bat before.
However, in the end it turned to be an exciting contest. Each team played each other once and it is being learnt that more than 800 runs were scored in the tournament and eventually the team called Juche emerged as the winner.
Since that day, nothing has been heard or written about the Pyongyang Cricket Club or anymore edition of the Pyongyang Friendship Cup.
The Syrian connection
Once famous for its rich history and tradition the ancient city of Aleppo, has now been reduced to ruins in the ongoing Syrian civil war. But, centuries before this massacre, this city had witnessed one of the most significant incidents in the history of cricket. According to the written documents, in 1676, it was in Aleppo, where the game of cricket was first played outside the British territories.
Back in the 17th century, the city used to be a trading hub and it attracted a lot of British traders and sailors. By that time back in England, Cricket had already been evolved and it was quite popular amongst the travelling Englishmen, who carried the game outside the isles.
Henry Teonge of Wolverton, Worcestershire, was one such traveller, who came to Aleppo during that time and documented in his diary about the game of “Krickett”, which used to be played amongst the Britishers as a pastime.
One entry in his diary on 6 May, 1676, read, “This morning early at least 40 of the English, with his worship the Consull, rod out of the cytty about 4 miles to the Greene Platt, a fine vally by a river syde, to recreate them selves. Where a princely tent was pitched; and wee had severall pastimes and sports, as duck-hunting, fishing, shooting, hand-ball, krickett, scrofilo; and then a noble dinner brought thither, with greate plenty of all sorts of wines, punchs, and lemonads; and at 6 wee returne all home in good order, but soundly tyred and weary.”
[Note: Spellings those days used to be quite different from the ones we use now. Quote courtesy: Abhishek Mukherjee, Editor in Chief, CricketCountry.com]
Here, by “Krickett”, Teonge undoubtedly wanted to mean the game of bat and ball.
Cricket in Falkland and the South Atlantic Ashes
The Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic have to be one the southernmost outposts for the game of cricket. Officially it is a British overseas territory with a population of 4,000 odd residents. However, the cricket culture is quite strong over here, thanks to most of the islanders’ association with the United Kingdom.
The game was first brought to this part of the world in the 1920’s by some British managers and since then it has become an integral part of their culture. Cricket became a favourite for the British soldiers, who were posted here following the World War II and Falkland war. They used to play occasional matches against the locals as well as against the crew members of passing cruise ships.
At present, the Falkland Islands Cricket Association (FICA), which was formed in 2001, is an affiliate member of ICC. In June 2010, the Falkland island team featured in the ICC Americas Division Four Championship in Mexico.
However, Falkland cricket is most famous for its flagship tournament, the South Atlantic Ashes — a prestigious annual competition between the Governor’s XI and the Commander British Forces’ XI, which is being played since the late 1980’s.
Initially, this fixture used to be a one-day event, but since 2004, the South Atlantic Ashes has become a three-match series. The action takes place on the matting wickets of the Mount Pleasant Airfield Oval, which is the only cricket ground on the island.
Cricket in the land of penguins
Yes, cricket has its footprints in Antarctica — the most inhabitable place in the world.
The sport is being played as a part of the annual February celebrations at Casey Station, situated in the Australian Antarctic Territory. During that time of the year the temperature hovers around -1 and -5 and according to Antarctica standards, it is the most pleasant time of the year, most suitable for a game of cricket.
They use the cemented helipad as pitch. I am sure there has been a fair bit of bounce and carry on that surface.
In 2012, a cricket match was played between the British and a Rest of the World team under extreme conditions with temperatures reaching as low as -35 degree Celsius. The fixture was organized to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Captain Scott’s arrival at the South Pole and the English team ended up winning it.
Cricket in the lap of Mount Everest
In 2009, a British expedition team set a record of playing a full-fledged 11-a-side cricket match at the Everest Base Camp. The 50-member strong group of amateurs and enthusiastic mountaineers took part in an exhausting nine days trekking to the site of the Twenty20 match at the Gorak Shep plateau, which at 16,945 ft is just above the Everest Base Camp.
Locals Sherpas helped to prepare the field of play by moving stones, pebbles, and rocks — sometimes by pickaxes, sometimes by hand. It took quite an effort to get things ready for the match.
Eventually, the match was worth all the hard work.
In a highly contested game, team Hillary beat team Tenzing by 36 runs with six balls remaining. The teams celebrated their achievement of taking the game to such a height, literally, with a giant bottle of champagne followed by cups of tea.
However, two years before this game, another expedition group, including the Essex all-rounder Graham Napier and Nottinghamshire batsman Mark Wagh played a six-a-side eight-over game up there as well.
The world’s highest cricket match
In September 2014, as many as 30 former and current cricketers, including the Ashes winning England spinner Ashley Giles, ex-South Africa speedster Makhaya Ntini, the former England women’s captain Clare Connor and the current England woman cricketer Heather Knight participated in a cricket match just below the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa. With its three volcanic cones, "Kibo", "Mawenzi" and "Shira", it is also considered as a sleeping volcano.
The group trekked for seven days to reach a height of 18,910 feet, where on a flat landscape of Crater camp, the 10-over-a-side match was played. Not to mention, a matting turf was used for this unique game.
The Gorillas, led by Knight, batted first and made 82 for 5 from their 10 overs. In reply, Giles-led Rhinos finished their innings at 64 for 9, giving the opponents an 18-run victory in this historic encounter.
The contingent, through that record-breaking match, raising funds for cancer research and for the protection of endangered African wildlife. Also, a part of that fund was used in the construction of the recently inaugurated international cricket stadium in war-affected Rwanda.
It requires a lot of courage, determination and passion to take the game to these distant corners of the world. Hat’s off to those animated devotees, who had accepted the challenge and taken the game to these distant corners of the world.
In the end, cricket is the real winner.