Cricket in Iceland, who knew!

By Gerard Mulreaney

When you think about cricket you think of Lords, the Oval, Lahore, Sydney, Melbourne, Sabina Park, Eden Gardens, Centurion Park, Port Elizabeth, Headingley, the Gabba and Karachi’s Kensington Oval to name but a few. Not many, if any at all, would say Reykjavík!

Cricket was brought to Iceland by expats during World War 2, according to the Wisden Cricketers Almanac, but it was in 2008 that the Icelandic National Team was formed. The team is administered by the Iceland Cricket Board (Krikketsamband Íslands). An Icelandic team competed at the 2016 Pepsi Cup tournament in Prague, finishing fifth out of six teams.

Cricket in Iceland has been brought into the mainstream this year by Social Media of all things. A few months ago I stumbled, like thousands of others it seems, on Iceland Crickets Twitter page. It’s packed full of very witty, and informative posts.

I noticed that the country will play their first ever International matches, a T20 and an ODI against Switzerland in July, along with a match against an MCC XI at Hampton Hill in south-west London on 24th of July. Neither of the matches will have an official ICC status.

New Iceland Cricket Jersey

Iceland is hoping to join the European Cricket Council, with ambitions to match Switzerland’s status as affiliate members of the International Cricket Council – the sport’s global governing body.

With both Ireland and Afghanistan playing their maiden Test matches this year, the fact that Iceland were beginning their International cricket journey was fascinating and I was intrigued to find out more.

Iceland Cricket are managed by an Englishman, Darren Talbot, who played cricket for, and captained Surreys Under 19 team. He played in the same team as both Mark Butcher and Adam Hollioake. Unfortunately for him a playing career never materialised after he fell out of love with the game.

I caught up with Darren and asked him how, and why he got involved in coaching and how he got his love for the game back. He told me, “I was approached in 2003 to set up and run a junior section by a family friend. He was chairman of a club who needed a junior section to confirm promotion. In 2004 my coaching career started and then in 2007 I took up coaching full-time. Through that, I fell back in love with the game.”

Darren is also the ECB’s National Deaf Cricket Pathway Manager, so I asked him about how that came about. “I have been working as a volunteer in Deaf Cricket since 2010. A friend of mine is a qualified coach and has a deaf daughter, and he expressed an interest in using his sign language skills to run some Deaf Cricket and the journey started from there. In 2012 I adopted the South East regional Deaf team and turned it into the first county Deaf team, Surrey, coaching and managing the team.”

Darren continued, “6 weeks later the England Cricket Association for the Deaf (ECAD) Lions manager resigned and I took on that post too. At that stage we had 80 known players with an average of 40+ in Deaf Cricket so I set about changing that so we could work with more young people. We now have over 300 players with an average age in the 20s. The ECB have since taken on the Lions team and all new players now come through the pathway I manage for them. It is an incredibly rewarding job that I hope to continue for many years to come. We’re still looking for more Deaf Cricketers of any age.”

Icelandic squad ahead of their UK tour

Moving onto Iceland, Darren took up the role as Head Coach of Iceland Cricket in 2005 after he had spent some time away coaching in Germany, Switzerland and Austria. Then he was approached about the job in Iceland. Darren takes it up from here, “I was approached by one of the Iceland cricketers about coming out there. We chatted for a while about what they had and, being an intrepid European Cricket traveller, I went out there at my own cost to see it first-hand. It was clear that there was much potential and, coupled with my Cricket Development skills, it was a good fit to work with them towards improving their cricket, the structure and putting them on the European Cricketing map.”

“Initially, the objective was to turn a group of multi-national ex-pats into a team. Not an easy task with a huge mix of cultures, but on our 2nd Prague tour last September I felt we were getting very close. There are some very talented players in Iceland and we just need to keep developing as a team. With our first full international matches coming up against Switzerland in July we have moved really quickly into the international arena and my hope is that we will now go on to play internationals every year.”

As part of their very successful Social Media campaign they also set about crowdfunding, something that went better than expected. Kit Harris, secretary of the Icelandic Cricket Board explains, “We started a crowdfunding campaign on Twitter with the idea of selling the Iceland national team to the highest bidder. This caught the imagination of the Reddit Cricket community, who organised their own fundraising to reach the £3000 price tag that we’d put on the team.”

New Logo

Following on from that, Reddit Cricket will sponsor the Iceland National Team during their tour to the UK and for their games against Switzerland.

Darren says that with the new interest levels and higher profile of Icelandic Cricket due to their Social Media, it’s the perfect opportunity now to take advantage of it. “Very much so. Our Social Media manager is incredible, and we have now raised enough interest and some financial support to take us to the next level which is ICC membership. The next step is to find a ground,” said Darren.

As part of a competition, Iceland recently won a cricket pitch, albeit a Flicx-pitch but Darren thinks that it’s a huge boost to the game in the country, “The Flicx pitch is like gold-dust! Without it it’s practically impossible to play a proper game of cricket in Iceland due to the conditions there. We use the 2G Flicx pitch at my club in the UK for outfield matches and it plays incredibly well, as good as an astroturf pitch – the standard in Europe – plus we have the ability to pick it and pack it away, something you obviously can’t do with a concrete wicket.”

“It’s a major boost for us, we just need to find somewhere flat enough and grassy enough (not easy in Iceland which is akin to the moon!) to find a base. From there I am confident we can grow the game sufficiently to have ICC membership in the next 3-5 years.”

“Currently all our outdoor matches are played on astro football pitches, which isn’t ideal preparation for tours on astro or grass surfaces plus it gives ridiculous boundary sizes.”

There are currently only two teams in Iceland – the Reykjavík Vikings and Kópavogur Puffins, with expatriate players in the majority. They play each other in the Domestic Cup (re-named the Volcanic Ashes!).

T20 teams

However, today (July 13th) the first ever Icelandic Premier League competition gets underway with four teams. They are the Seltjarnanes Sunsets, Hafnarfjordur Hammers, Gardabær Geysirs and the Kópavogur Puffins. It will feature 6 players per side and all the team names were chosen as part of a competition on Social Media.

Darren says the launch of the new competition is huge, “It’s a big step for cricket in the country. This is a great step for us as we are developing some new clubs, another step towards ICC membership. Thankfully I haven’t had to get too involved in the setting up of this and I am gutted that I am not going to be able to get out there to be involved due to my commitments in the UK at this time of the year. To have all our players getting involved and playing in formal matches is a huge leap forward.”

T20 teams

It’s a big Sumer Internationally for Iceland, with the trip to the UK and Darren and the team are looking forward to it, “Clearly playing our first international matches is huge. For the players to be able to pull on an Iceland shirt and represent the nation in an international match is probably beyond the wildest dreams of our players and myself. You don’t expect to end up representing a nation at cricket. It is also a massive honour to play the MCC too.”

As with any sport, finance is hugely important in growing interest and Iceland Cricket have been busy. Darren said, “Finance is really the key to development. Without it, it’s practically impossible. The Crowdfunding and sponsorship has now given us a base to develop cricket further. I am travelling out to Iceland in October to start a local schools programme to try to develop the game amongst locals. It’s probably my steepest ever challenge but I feel this is the one area where non-Test cricket nations have largely failed to develop the game with ex-pats continuing to dominate. I am going in with my eyes wide open but I love a challenge. Even if we only get a handful of locals playing that will be a great achievement. I also want to get an Iceland Women’s team up and running in the next few years.”

Obviously the goal is to bring in young local players, it’s a difficult task but one he’s relishing, “We have one Icelandic player, albeit one who largely grew up in Australia. The schools programme mentioned is the key to this. It may take 5-10 years for this to bear fruit but I am determined to prove it’s possible to turn native Europeans onto cricket and where better than a country as isolated from the continent at Iceland.”

On the chances of Iceland gaining admission as an official ICC member Darren is hopeful,

“ICC are sensibly not too fussed about international matches at this level, preferring nations to focus on growing the game locally. The schools programme will be of much more interest to the ICC but I am sure they will be pleased to see another nation developing their cricket. Having worked with a number of other European nations over the past few years I have been able to pick up some really great “best practice”. Coaching out in Macedonia a couple of years ago was also really useful as they were then in a very similar position to where Iceland was 6 months ago.”

Pictures by Iceland Cricket