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SPAIN IN SWEDEN
 
28th August 2016

ICC Europe Division Two Cricket Championship

More rain than play in Sweden

On the 15thof August 2016, players and management of the Spanish National Cricket Squad started their journeys to Barcelona, from where on the following morning, the team would travel to the Arlanda airport.

Taking off on an early morning flight, the squad arrived at their hotel at Stayat Kista Sweden at 14.45. Later at 17.00 the Spanish team joined the 5 other countries taking part in the tournament Germany, Gibraltar, Isle of Man, Israel and host Sweden, at the inauguration reception at Stockholm town hall. 

Inside the spectacular building all teams were welcomed by the president of Stockholm city council, and speeches from the Mayor, sports minister and chairman of the Swedish cricket federation set the scene for an informative and entertaining evening. 

It was a wonderful start to proceedings and it was an honour to be in a place where the Noble peace prize winners are dined and entertained. 

The cricket started on Wednesday 17th August with the Spanish squad travelling to Gardet CC to play their first game of the championships, against the hosts at their local ground.  

Naturally the Swedish team had plenty of support at the ground and the press had also turned up to interview the players and take pictures of them with various delegates seen the night before at the Town hall. 

On an overcast and blowy day with rain clouds gathering fast, Spain definitely wanted to win the toss and put the hosts into bat, on a recently laid wicket they knew little about. Luck was not on their side and Sweden won the toss and did not hesitate putting the Spanish team into bat. As anticipated, the wicket proved hard to get runs on, not helped by a slow outfield and big boundaries.  With these conditions and Sweden’s bowlers bowling a good line and fielding well, 120 would have been a good score to defend. However Spain struggled to build partnerships and the pressure Sweden applied, along with a little bad luck with deliveries that stayed very low, Spain were all out for 117, but disappointingly only batted 19.4 overs. 

Sweden started well and for the first half of their innings doing what Spain struggled to do, building partnerships and keeping the score board moving steadily with plenty of wickets in hand. But once the first wicket fell the Spanish team started to turn the screw and Sweden found runs hard to come by and the required run rate started to creep up back to around 6 an over. The game was taken right to the wire but with wickets in hand the Swedish batsman were able to chance their luck, and with a couple of crucial boundaries of the penultimate over, Sweden reached the target with 2 balls to go. It was a fantastic game to watch with the result in the balance right into the last over, Spain fought hard worked well as a team but in the end came down to one thing, not enough runs on the board. The team knew that it was only the first game and despite the loss, there were a lot of positives plus importantly, they learnt about the conditions and the playing surfaces, knowledge that would serve them well. The team were then required to gather their gear, grab a sandwich and hop onto the coach to which would take them to the Skarpnack, a venue that had two pitches. Here Spain were going to play Israel in a must win match to stay in the competition, as Israel, Sweden and Germany, also playing each other, had all won their first games 

Arriving at Skarpnack the rain was now getting heavier and there was little sign off it holding off, the 3pm start was looking unlikely. However tournament organisers were keen to get the allocated games in for the day, so the games did go ahead, but were delayed and shortened due to the worsening weather. Spain won the all-important toss this time and immediately put Israel into bat in a game reduced to 18 overs per side. 

The weather was not good and frankly it was amazing that cricket was being played in these conditions. Even more amazing was how a team of players used to playing the game on hard wickets and glorious sunshine was putting on such a professional and quality performance. The team just kept plucking away, they slid, slipped and fell head over heels at times, and also had the additional danger of bats flying out of the batsman’s hands to contend with, but battled on to produce a superb fielding performance, Israel finishing on 83 – 9 off their 18 overs. 

As the Spanish batsman took the field the rain was really chucking it down now, and the guys knew they had to get on with the job quickly before the umpires had second thoughts. 

Though losing an early wicket, the guys buckled down and punished the bad ball and with the opposition struggling with the wet ball, reached their target in 12.4 overs. This win kept them in the championship, the other good news was that Sweden lost their rain effected game against the Germans, Spain’s next opponents, who now sat on top of the table with 4 points. Behind the leaders were 3 teams on 2 points, however, because of the great run chase against Israel the Spanish had a much better NRR so were sitting pretty in 2nd, maintaining this position would secure them promotion into division one. 

There was just the one game scheduled on Thursday and that was a 10am clash with the leaders of the table, Germany. Unfortunately Wednesday’s rain continued into the night and had left its mark on both the pitches at Skarpnack. Arriving at the ground at 8.30am it was clear that the start time was doubtful as most of the outfield was under water. The ground staff tried their best to dry out the ground and treat the affected areas, but with no change in the conditions, the umpires had no choice but to cancel the game and move it to the afternoon slot that had been left clear just in case games had to be rearranged. Conditions did not improve and the water on the outfield which in some places resembled a mud bath did not improve either, and as rain started to fall again, the match was cancelled. It was a long frustrating day wanting to play cricket but having to settle for sitting around all day getting restless. However the players had a chance to unwind in the evening and represent their country as all teams were invited to the house of the British ambassador for a welcome reception and few nibbles. 

Friday was a repeat of Thursday and the Spanish team were bitterly disappointed that the morning’s game against Isle of Man was cancelled. 

Two days being washed out was not what the team were expecting, though very frustrating, focusing on the mission, Spain was still in second place with a superior NRR to third placed Sweden. The Spanish players kept themselves occupied by mixing with the locals and keeping the youngsters occupied by giving them some helpful tips. The good news for the Spanish team was the morning game against Gibraltar was at Gardet, where play was likely to go ahead. Sweden, and their other rivals all had their games to play at Skarpnack which was going to be very unlikely. Having spent the evening looking at the stats and schedule, the team had worked out all the outcomes possible. If all games went ahead, Spain had to win their last 2 games. 

Saturday morning the team travelled to Gardet on a surprisingly sunny day. Gibraltar had the luck of the toss and did not hesitate putting Spain into bat on a wicket which proved difficult to bat on. The Spanish batsman once again struggled to adjust to the slow wicket and with Gibraltar keeping the pace off the ball, Spain set a below par target of 94 for the opposition to get. This game was going to be won in the field, which was the Spanish team’s strength at the tournament so far. The lads did not disappoint and immediately had their opponents struggling to score runs and falling behind the run rate. In the closing stages Gibraltar having wickets in hand made an assault on the Spanish bowlers and some big hits made for a tense finish, but the Spanish team did not let their concentration falter and stuck together as a team and restricted their opposition to 87 of their 20 overs. What a game, what a finish and the players knowing the importance of the victory were hugging each other and in high spirits knowing that all the morning games at Skarpnack had been abandoned. But then as often has been the case with Spanish teams at these championships, came the twist. The organisers had decided that Spain would, as planned, go to Skarpnack to play an afternoon game with Germany. Sweden would also play, against Sweden at Skarpnack.

This decision was taken by the organisers to validate the Tournament. Without Sweden playing a third game the whole tournament would have been void. Why Sweden played Gibraltar rather than Israel is most strange especially as Israel had a chance of qualifying and Gibraltar did not. That said, there was nothing the Spanish squad could do other than get on the bus and go to Skarpnack to hopefully, take on the Germans. 

As the Spanish boys sat hoping the umpires would give them some chance of playing a match against Germany, even a shortened match, news of Sweden’s dominance was coming through and it was clear that their NRR was going to be better than that of Spain’s. 

With their game finally called off at 18.15, the lads sat in silence in their changing room after confirmation came through of Sweden thrashing Gibraltar. They were devastated, they gave it their all, thought they had done it and then last minute changes took promotion out of their hands. 

The Spanish team left Sweden on Sunday afternoon very disappointed with the outcome, but they should be proud of how professional they were in representing their country on and off the pitch, making many friends with the local community and mixing in with all other teams. 

The Spanish team was Kuldeep Lal, Ravi Panchal, Armaghan Khan, Mukhtiar Singh, Nisar Ahmed, Jamie Roper, Awais Ahmed, Christian Muñoz, Zulqarnain Haider, Miguel Muñoz, Tanveer Iqbal, Faran Afzal, Talat Nadeem, Farhat Mahmood, Bobby Denning, Harmit Phull, Manuel Fernandez and Atif Ali. 

Everyone on the team would like to thank Cricket España for their support during the last two years in the build up to this championship, and all the Spanish clubs and individuals involved in the preparations and supporting them during the tournament in Sweden. 

Harmit Phull.