Twenty20 cricket a hit in the Balkans
For photos and more on the event please click here
Never before had the Republic of Macedonia, on the Balkan peninsula in southeastern Europe, hosted a cricket match but a brand new sporting tradition has now been established following the staging of a special inaugural Twenty20 tournament in Skopje, the country's capital city.
And according to Hugh Creal of Phalanx Capital, one of the organising bodies for the tournament, this ground-breaking initiative posed many new but worthwhile challenges.
"The first thing we had to do was find somewhere to play Twenty20 cricket because there are no cricket pitches in Macedonia. Also we had no bats, no helmets in fact no equipment and no players for that matter so we approached this day with nervous apprehension," he said.
He need not have worried. Equipment for the games, including stumps, bats, balls and protective clothing was provided by the ICC European Development Program and was flown out from the British Royal Air Force base at Lyneham to Pristina, where the Army transported it 50 miles south to the Vardar Football Stadium, situated next to the country's national stadium.
The pitch was created out of matting kindly donated by Notts Sport Limited and players were selected from a number of different sources. They included the captain and vice-captain of the London-based Honorary Artillery Company Cricket Club, British expat businessmen and members of NATO and British Army forces plus a group of local Macedonians who were given their first taste of cricket.
HM Ambassador to the Republic of Macedonia, H.E. Robert Chatterton Dickson fielded his own Ambassador XI who took on a team from NATO's K4 troops, in from Kosovo for the day but lost when Creal failed to hold a catch to dismiss the last K4 batsman as they reached their target with five balls to spare.
The British Gurkhas performed a Ceremonial Kukri Drill and played an exhibition match during lunch then the Ambassadors XI were back in action in the afternoon when they played a Macedonia XI, sourced from Australian and British expats, most of them with club or grade cricket experience who pulled off an emphatic victory.
The games were watched by a 300 strong crowd including local dignitaries drawn from the Macedonia Government and Parliament and accompanied by some booming tunes, many of them classic Balkan rock and reggae tracks.
"It was a very successful day and we had a very positive response to the event," said Creal who on behalf of the organisers British Business Group and Phalanx Capital has handed over all the equipment to the Macedonian Ministry of Sport & Youth with the eventual aim of setting up the country’s first cricket club. Any profits from the event will be going to support the Children’s Leukemia and Cancer Organisation in Macedonia., the British Army and NATO.
"We thank the ICC Development Program, the British Army, the British Ambassador and all other parties that have made this event possible. Let’s hope this competition can mark the start of the development and growth of cricket in Macedonia."