BERLIN: While Germany were plotting their path to the famed Maracana and football’s World Cup in Brazil last summer, the country’s cricketers were toiling in the humble English town of Billericay.
Most Germans regard cricket as a quaint English sport which takes days to play or assume it is a variation of baseball.
While the top cricket nations prepare to battle it out for the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand later this month, minnows Germany will prepare their bid to climb out of Europe’s Division Three when the new season starts in April.
A poor showing in last June’s Division Two tournament in Essex saw Germany lose all five matches, including a one-run defeat to neighbours Austria, which led to their relegation.
It was a far cry from their cheeky challenge to the Australian team during the 2013 Ashes series which grabbed the UK and Australian media’s attention.
With England on the verge of a 2-0 lead during the Lord’s Test, the German team tweeted: “If you fancy a competitive game we are only an hour’s flight from London” to the Australians.
“Things went a bit mad. We made it onto the BBC’s Test Match Special and were interviewed on Australian television,” Brian Mantle, the general manager of the German Cricket Federation (DCB), told AFP.
“The British media started worrying about what would happen if Germany ever got good at cricket, but the German media hardly picked it up.”
But as Mantle explains, getting Germans interested in cricket presents several challenges.
“Our aim isn’t to qualify for a future Twenty20 World Cup, but to win promotion to Europe’s Division Two, then go up to Division One in 2017,” said Mantle, an Englishman who has brought his passion for cricket to the continent.
“Germans tend to see cricket as either a variation of baseball or the clichid image of it played on English village greens.
“That will only really change if cricket is televised here and they see how exciting it can be.”
All sports finish a poor second to football in soccer-mad Germany, but figures show cricket is growing.
The DCB’s development work has paid off with 2,085 adults and 885 juniors now playing the sport, up from 1,020 adults and 200 children just four years ago.
Mantle says 90 percent of cricketers in Germany are expats and the DCB’s goal is to build on the 10 percent of born-and-bred Germans currently playing cricket by developing the youth game.
The national team includes players from Australia, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and India, but German is the team’s language.
They are either second-generation immigrants born in the country or have qualified on residency and nine out of the 14 in the 2014 squad held German passports.
Elite Twenty20 cricket
With a Scottish coach and a Pakistani director of sport, the national team’s expertise comes from outside Germany.
Cricket in Germany is played in two formats with 39 teams spread over six regional divisions in the 50-over Bundesliga alongside a club competition playing Twenty20 cricket.
An elite three-team Twenty20 competition is planned for May and June followed by friendly internationals against Denmark to prepare for the Division III tournament which will take place in 2016.
The idea is to try and present the colourful side of cricket to curious Germans with fast-paced action.
“If you speak to Germans about cricket, they want to know why both teams wear white and why matches take five days,” said Andre Leslie, a top order batsman for the national side who hails from Sydney and doubles as the DCB’s press officer.
Having played schoolboy cricket for New South Wales, Leslie wrote the book “Batting for Berlin” about his experiences of playing in the capital after finishing studying.
“Twenty20 cricket is the way forward in Germany, so we have the best players in colourful uniforms on the best surfaces showing the Germans what cricket is really about,” he said.
Mantle hopes German cricket can eventually returns to it’s pre-WWII levels when there were 30 teams in Berlin alone, with many football teams across Germany having also had a cricket section.
“It was wiped out after the war, the British military reintroduced it during the occupation and was played by Indians and Sri Lankans in the 1960s before the DCB was established 26 years ago,” explained Mantle.