(AFP) — Thousands of refugees from cricket-mad Afghanistan have led to dozens of new clubs popping up across Germany, and the national team is now on the rise.
Imagine it’s 2027 and Germany face England at Berlin’s iconic Olympic Stadium in the first one-day cricket international between the nations.
Such an historic David versus Goliath clash remains a distant pipe-dream, but with cricket booming in football-mad Germany, it could be a glimpse of the future.
Although still a minority sport, playing numbers here have doubled in the past few years and the German national team, made up of expats who qualified on residency, is on the rise.
In Frankfurt on Monday, Germany hosted the world’s oldest club, the prestigious Marylebone Cricket Club, an invitational team made up of players with international and first-class experience.
The MCC’s visit helps Germany prepare for next month’s Europe Division One tournament in the Netherlands against fellow minnows like Belgium, France, Norway and Sweden.
After winning last year’s division two tournament in Sweden, Germany hopes for another promotion in Holland to reach World League Division Five in South Africa in September – the first rung on the ladder to the World Cup.
“To be honest I wasn’t even sure Germany hosted much cricket, but the standard looks quite good and we’re hearing goods things about the future numbers,” former Yorkshire batsman Jim Love, who managed the MCC team, told AFP.
— Cricket Germany 🏏 (@Cricket_Germany) January 16, 2017
The 2015 refugee crisis meant thousands of new arrivals from cricket-mad Afghanistan.
New clubs are popping up nationwide and over 450 refugee projects were supported by the German Cricket Federation (DCB) in 2016.
Having scored his maiden international century for Ireland against New Zealand a fortnight ago, Niall O’Brien hit 96 when the MCC beat Germany by 76 runs in Monday’s 50-overs match.
“I’m from a smaller cricketing nation with Ireland and have been involved since it was a minor sport back home, so I know what the Germans are facing,” said Ireland’s wicketkeeper.
“It’s going to be a long road.
“The numbers are growing – which is a key thing – and standards are improving.
“It would be great, in five to ten years, to see them doing what Ireland or Afghanistan are doing now.”
For Englishman Brian Mantle, the CEO of the German Cricket Federation (DCB), the challenge is to meet the growing demand with limited resources.
The MCC has donated equipment, a drop in the ocean compared to what the DCB needs, but there are hopes the German government will provide funding if the IOC votes in September to make cricket an Olympic sport.
Nevertheless, Mantle is excited by the prospect of German organisation blended with raw Afghan talent.
Integration Cup in Hamburg was won by SG Findorff pic.twitter.com/TlDrlVIRwu
— Cricket Germany 🏏 (@Cricket_Germany) March 25, 2017
‘Big, big future’
“We have a big, big future. It’s too early to start thinking about World Cups and test cricket, but we’re definitely growing,” said Mantle.
“A lot of refugees need to be here for a certain amount of time before they qualify for the national team.
“The Afghans tend to be a lot faster, more dynamic, but they maybe need to learn a little more discipline and the tactics of cricket.
“It makes it a good mix – we all learn from each other.
“In four or five years we will have a very good national team, which will hopefully be a mixture of home-grown talent and those who have come here.”
And what about a future one-day international against the likes of England or Australia?
“Playing against England is something we aspire to, but we have other aspirations, like competing against nations like the Netherlands and Ireland,” said Mantle.
“When we have done that, we can think about other things, but it would be a dream.”
When he arrived in Aachen from Pune, India, in 2004, Rishi Pillai, now captain of the national team, had no idea cricket was played in Germany.
“I started off playing in Holland,” he admitted.
“I didn’t play here until 2008 and never imagined I would get the chance to captain Germany.
“Things have changed massively in terms of the interest, the number of clubs and players.
“The influx of refugees in the last two years has had a significant impact.
“They bring a different culture, most of them don’t have a cricket education, but it’s becoming a very strong mix here.”
Germany’s wicket-keeper, Daniel Weston, hails from Perth, Australia.
He broke into the national team last year after noticing cricket was being taken more seriously.
“I was in the Australia Under-19 squad and played for Western Australia second XI. I loved my cricket, but didn’t feel I was good enough to make the top level, so I went travelling, said the 34-year-old.
— Cricket Germany 🏏 (@Cricket_Germany) March 25, 2017
German Cricket TV
“I got to Munich, ended up staying, made friends and played as a hobby.
“Then the cricket scene here got a lot more disciplined with fitness training, testing and a new coach – that is when I put my hand up.”
Last year, Weston founded German Cricket TV which posts short videos on social media and has over 750,000 followers on Facebook.
“I’m into technology and after we posted a short video of the team on Facebook and got 10,000 followers. It went from there,” he explained.
Weston says there is a huge source of untapped cricket talent in Germany.
“It’s as if football coaches from Germany went to Brazil, selected their favourite street footballers and brought them home,” he said.
“It’s a great opportunity, because of all the Afghans we now have here.
“They will learn German, integrate and have German kids, who’ll be cricket lovers.
“I’d love to see that there is a process of nurturing cricketers to give them a pathway to a World Cup, because they are incredibly talented.
“But it doesn’t come from the German government – they’re clueless about it.
“The best cricketers in Germany aren’t here today, because they are still unknown.
“We’re only discovering them when they come to integration tournaments.”
(By Ryland James)