Cricket breaking down boundaries in Israel through the Cricket4peace project

Philip Hudson
Wed, May 30, 2012 2:24 PM

Cricket breaking down boundaries in Israel through the Cricket4peace project
Philip Hudson, ICC Regional Performance Officer - Europe and Roland Lefebvre, KNCB's High Performance Manager visited Tel Aviv recently as part of an ICC coaching and development trip. This visit was arranged in partnership with the Israel Cricket Association (ICA) and involved coaching sessions with their leading senior and junior players.

Day 1
This was to be my first trip to Israel and one that genuinely excited me as the ICA have been working on some wonderful projects such as the Cricket4Peace project. Cricket4Peace provides the opportunity for Israeli and Palestinian children to play the game of cricket without fear or prejudice. My visit to Tel Aviv was also the first time that an ICC Europe staff member had visited Israel since 2004 to support the ICA in a coaching capacity.

Upon arrival into Tel Aviv I was provided VIP treatment through passport control, security, and baggage reclaim. This was a first for me and I may be cheekily asking other member countries to ensure that this occurs on every one of my future trips. Myself and Roland were both met at the airport by Herschel Gutman, he has done a wonderful job in Israel as a coach and administrator. He is passionate about developing cricketers and spreading the positive messages that cricket only can offer; this is what I love about the game.

Day 2
After an early wakeup call we headed onto the National Athletics Stadium where today's session was taking place. The weather at 9am was already a 'sweaty' 25 degrees but in the stadium it already felt considerably higher.

The facilities at the stadium included the ICA official office, a three-bay net and a Flicx pitch set out in the middle of the athletics track. I was pleasantly surprised with the facilities and excited about putting the Israeli national team and some of their U/19's through their paces. It was great to see some old friends who I had worked with on ICC European Academies and at the Emerging Players Programme (EPP). Gabi Schachat attended the 2010 EPP while Danny Hotz was present in 2004 at the Youth Coaching Camp held at Bradfield.

The challenges that Israeli cricket faces was immediately evident to me when I spoke to Gabi that his focus had mainly been on guard duty practice. In Israel conscription exists for all Israeli citizens over the age of 18. The normal length of compulsory service is currently three years for men and two years for women. It is a real challenge for the ICA as a high number of their most talented cricketers are currently carrying out army service. Approval from the army needs to be granted for these players so that they can participate in European competition and training weekends if they aren't on leave. There is no guarantee that these players will be granted leave.

The morning session commenced with fielding drills based around the skills required in the infield and outfield. The players were split into two teams and performed several fielding drills with a competition edge added to them. Disappointingly my team was comprehensively beaten by Roland's resulted in me having to purchase two large glasses of the local tipple Goldstar for Roland.

We moved on from the fielding sessions into the net environment. One of the nets was assigned to batters facing spin, one was assigned to the seam bowlers and the final net was provided to the batsmen who wanted to work specifically on technical areas. It was great to see all the players listening inventively and coaching points being worked on after players had been made aware.

During the session I spoke to several of the players about the Jewish Shabbat. The Shabbat is a weekly day of rest, observed from sundown on Friday until a specific rising of the stars in the sky on the Saturday night. Over 90% of the Israel team are Jewish and the observant ones are unable to play on the Saturday which is the Shabbat, the day of rest. When selecting national squads for tours or European competition the ICA needs to limit the number of players that observe the Shabbat so that they have eleven players that can take to the field.

Our lunch was taken up by a meeting held at a cafe near the stadium with Mr Stanley Perlman, ICA's Chairman and Mrs Neta Cohen, ICA's first female board member. She has been appointed by the ICA as part of compliance with the law to give women equal opportunity.

The afternoon session consisted of Herschel, Roland and I working with the most talented U/12 players in Israel. The highlight of this session was being asked by one of the players where I was from. I replied that I lived in England. The next question put to me was as I lived in London had I ever met Paul McCartney. I may well return to the UK not knowing anymore about Israeli cricket but at least I now know a little more about the Beatles.

Day 3
With the Shabbat being observed several players were unable to attend today's training while we also welcomed a couple of new players. Herschel informed Roland and I that the fitness levels of their national team players needed to be improved but he had limited time working with them.

Roland and I put together a fitness session which also incorporated skills such as diving and catching. Our aim of this session was not only to work the players hard but also to show that fitness levels can be increased while also developing cricket specific skills using the same drills.

Throughout the heat the players were involved in middle practice using match scenarios to develop their learning. This was a tough 4 hours of work but I am sure that the right messages were put across to the players and this will benefit them in the future. Roland and I reiterated the importance of players thinking about their games and not allowing T20 matches to pass them by.

Day 4
Due to Sundays being a work day in Israel no cricket takes place. The ICA arranged an excursion for us to the Holy City of Jerusalem and the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial and Museum. The tour of Jerusalem took us to through a panoramic overview from the Mount of Olives, into the Jewish and Arab quarters of the city, The Western (Wailing) Wall square and onto the Church of the Holy Sepulchre - the site of the crucifixion. Visiting Yad Vashem was a disturbing experience and one that I will never forget. By 1945 a civilization that had flourished for almost 2,000 years was virtually no more. In the evening we attended a meeting with Mr Perlman to discuss Israeli cricket.

Day 5
Our final morning involved visiting the Peres Peace House which is situated in Jaffa. The Peres Centre For Peace is a non-governmental organization founded in 1996 by Nobel Peace Laureate and President of the state of Israel Shimon Peres. The Israel Cricket Association and The Peres Center For Peace run a joint project called Cricket4Peace. The scheme has involved 80 boys and girls from four separate playing centres in Israel, and the Palestinian Authority being introduced to cricket for the first time using cricket as a tool to bring communities together. The aim of the project is based on laying the foundations for bringing together Israeli and Palestinian youth both boys and girls. We were presented to by Tami Hay, Director ' Sport Department and then shown around the stunning Peres Peace House. In the afternoon we headed out to the ICA's ground in Lod before our final stop at the Ben Gurion International Airport.

My visit to Israel has been a wonderful experience. The ICA is continuing to develop cricket in a challenging but beautiful environment while also running special projects such as Cricket4Peace. My knowledge of Israel and some of the challenges that are faced in trying to develop the game out there have been greatly increased. It was a pleasure to see some old friends again in their homeland while also being provided with the opportunity to work with Israel's leading senior and junior cricketers. I would like to thank Stanley, Herschel and all at the ICA for helping to set up our visit.

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