SPORTS

History made as Greece triumphs in the European Indoor Cricket Championships

Cricket in Greece may be a completely unknown sport outside the island of Corfu, but it thrives in the only place it is played, as shown by Sunday’s victory in the European Indoor Cricket Championships (ICC). Greece secured its first European title by beating Ireland with eight balls to spare in the final of the European Cricket Council’s 12-team indoor championships in Mechelen, Belgium. This event, the ICC World Development Program’s only indoor tournament, is open to both associate and affiliate members (Greece is an affiliate), with some parity in playing standards ensured by the enforcement of three categories based on age (under-17 for the leading associates, under-21 for the remaining associates and under-26 for the affiliates). The first phase of the tournament was played in two groups, drawn according to rankings established at last year’s event in Portugal, followed by an exciting knockout stage. After last year’s exceptionally close finish, Group A saw reigning champions Portugal pitted against the Netherlands, Spain, Greece, hosts Belgium and Austria. The Greeks quickly established themselves as the form team, with commanding performances in the group matches, including an impressive 174-1 win against Austria, while the Dutch team’s ability to defend smaller targets proved to be their bowling strength. The group leader was decided by the final match between these two, with the Greeks setting an imposing target before bowling out the Dutch. Group B was by no means the weaker group, with the Danish team, who had been so close to a semi-final slot in Portugal the previous year, being joined by Ireland (new to the competition), France, Italy, Gibraltar and Germany. The Danes played consistently, winning all their group games, and France, who only managed 11th place in Portugal, excelled themselves to finish second in the group, ahead of Ireland, Italy, Gibraltar and Germany. Ireland, however, defeated the Danes in the knockout stage, to face and beat defending champions Portugal in the quarter-finals. Germany overcame France, whom they had narrowly lost to in the group matches, to set up a match with Holland which the Germans won, bowling the Dutch out for 57. With the seeds having been sown, Germany took on Ireland, who put in an impressive performance to take them to the final in their first attempt. In the other half of the knockout draw, hosts Belgium chalked up their first win by putting Gibraltar out of the competition, but were then in turn dismissed by the Austrians, who went through to a semi-final against Greece, who had shut out Italy for 23 in their quarter-final, one of very few one-sided contests in the competition. The semi-final swung one way and then the other, with the Greeks finally cutting loose, after being restricted by some tight early bowling from Austria, to proceed to their encounter with Ireland in the final match. The Greeks managed to contain their young opponents to 78-3, and, despite some tight bowling from the Irish early on, came through to win with eight balls to spare, taking the title for the first time. Gary Wilson, the Irish wicket-keeper, who had batted consistently, and whose wicketkeeping had been nothing short of exemplary, with some remarkably agile stumpings and glove work, was named Player of the Tournament.