Cricket-St Helena 'proud' after first international steps
DUBAI May 9 (Reuters) - When Australia cricketer Ed Cowan recently lamented the time he took to get home after a recent tour, his counterparts in St Helena's national team could have been forgiven for allowing themselves a wry grin.
“"After 56 hours, 17 minutes and 12 seconds - home," Tweeted Cowan after returning from a series in the Caribbean earlier this month.
For the players and officials of St Helena, a remote island with a population of just over 4,000 in the Atlantic Ocean between the continents of South America and Africa, a journey of that length would have seemed like a walk in the park.
Playing in their first-ever international tournament last month required a five-day voyage by sea to Cape Town on the island's only link to the outside world, the Royal Mail Ship (RMS) St Helena, followed by a flight to Johannesburg ahead of eight Twenty20 matches in Benoni.
That tournament, the ICC Africa Division Three tournament, was the first qualifying event for the ICC World Twenty20 tournament in Bangladesh in 2014.
Although the Saints did not win it, they did not disgrace themselves either, winning four of their eight matches to finish fifth ahead of Morocco, Cameroon and Mali in an eight-team event won by Zambia.
“It was exciting and not a little daunting," team manager Simon Green told Reuters. “"Truth be told I think we did the island proud but (we) could have done better. We belong in international cricket."
For the islanders, recognised by the game's global governing body, the International Cricket Council, in 2001, just getting to Benoni was an achievement.
The players and officials had to raise 24,000 pounds to send the team and also rely on the ship's schedule coinciding with the tournament as 12 months earlier they had to decline an invitation to take part when that schedule was changed.
Cricket has been played on St Helena, famous for being the last home of exiled former French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, for well over 100 years with this year's Wisden Cricketers' Almanack referencing the death of a fielder in 1886, killed as he fell from the island while trying to take a catch.
“"We have a long and rich history of cricket," said Green. “"The island's archives indicate it was played here in the late nineteenth century.
"“I would say cricket is probably the main participatory sport on the island with football a close second. (We have) nine teams, so (we have) a minimum of 99 players, although there are more as some play a few games before going away to work on the RMS, Falklands or Ascension Island."
Facilities and resources are now the biggest obstacles to growing the game as the players and officials look to build on St Helena's maiden appearance on the international stage.
"“(We have) one cricket pitch, Francis Plain, which is matting on concrete, plus two indoor nets and a bowling machine," said Green. “"If we can identify a site for a second pitch then we can develop further and play longer forms of the game."
Green said the island, which forms part of the British overseas protectorate of St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha, is set to get an airport by 2015 which should also help that development process.
"“It will clearly make it easier for us to get to tournaments, to bring coaches in and maybe for visiting teams to tour here," he said.
In the meantime, having taken their first steps in international cricket, the islanders can dream of making progress up the ICC rankings, perhaps even emulating Afghanistan, who went from playing cricketing minnows Jersey and Japan in 2008 to taking part in the ICC World Twenty20 just two years later.
"“Afghanistan is an inspiration," said Green. “"The squad watched the film Out of the Ashes (the documentary of Afghanistan's journey to the ICC World Twenty20 tournament in 2010) on the ship (to Cape Town). Can we emulate them? Never say never."
(Editing by Martyn Herman)
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