Friday, August 14, 2020

ICC: Cricket makes strides in St Helena

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The island of St Helena, with a population of around 6,000, has not recorded any COVID-19 infections to date. This has allowed cricket to carry on, and thrive.

Despite the limited population, cricket has enjoyed a special place in St Helena, an island in the Atlantic. The senior men’s team featured in the ICC T20 World Cup Africa Qualifier C in Gaborone, Botswana, in November 2018. Skippered by Scott Crowie, they put up a decent fight, finishing third out of the seven teams that participated.

They gave the higher-ranked Namibia a scare, having them five down for less than 70 on the board. Superb lower-order batting from the Namibians carried them to 180, a total that proved to be beyond the islanders.

Key players in the qualifier for St Helena were Andrew Yon, a right-arm pace bowler with a Malinga-like action, opener Damien Obey and skipper Crowie. Yon’s pace troubled batsmen, while he also chipped in with the bat, smashing a fine 54 against Malawi. He was rewarded with selection for the Africa High Performance camp in 2019, where he further developed his skills.

Opener Obey and middle order batsmen Crowie played fine knocks throughout the competition, contributing to wins against Eswatini (formerly Swaziland), Lesotho and Malawi.

Cricket on the island is remarkable not just for the remoteness, but for the terrain. The island has almost no flat land: everything is uphill, or downhill, and usually pretty steep. Apart from the airport, for which land had to be flattened to accommodate the airstrip, the only piece of ground of any size that is roughly flat and can be used as a playing field is on top of a 300-foot rock face, which boasts a picturesque heart-shaped waterfall on the right side and is next to the island’s secondary school, Prince Andrew School.

Legend has it that in 1885 a sailor lost his life while playing against a local team. When chasing a ball, he could not stop himself and went over the precipice.

Cricket in St Helena has been around since the 1800s, played by the many British soldiers stationed on the island during the Napoleonic era, but it was not formally recognised until a league was founded in 1903 by a local businessman, Humphrey Solomon. Today it is one of the two main sports for participation and spectators on the island.

In 1995, Governor David Smallman, a member of the MCC and the Queen’s Park Cricket Club in the West Indies, became president of the St Helena Cricket Association (SHCA) and through his efforts, in 2001, SHCA became an Affiliate Member of the ICC.

As all players have full-time jobs, cricket is usually played on the weekends. The St Helena cricket tournaments are restricted to only seven months a year, December to June, as the only playing field is used by footballers during the other six months.

Cricketers are restricted to indoor nets and shortened games during the off-season. The national team is currently training for the Africa T20 World Cup Qualifier in South Africa next year.

Just as they did in 2018, St Helena will be looking to cause a few upsets at that qualifier when cricket finally resumes. Watch out for this island nation punching well above their weight!

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