The View from Fez team are in debt to the Australian newspaper, The Courier Mail, for opening our eyes to the fact that cricket is played in Morocco. We were also gobsmacked as we had only just recovered from our discovery of icehockey (see story here.)
The Moroccan cricket team became an affiliate member of the International Cricket Council in 1999 Their international debut came in 2006 when they took part in Division Three of the African region of the ICC World Cricket League. They finished fifth in the eight-team tournament.
We were also delighted to discover that Morocco boasts an ICC-approved ground capable of hosting full internationals, the National Cricket Stadium in Tangier. It has so far hosted one One Day International triangular tournament, the Morocco Cup in 2002, when Sri Lanka won ahead of South Africa and Pakistan.
Now a new challenge has appeared. An unusual team is headed to Morocco. Even if you are a cricket tragic, you will be forgiven if the team is unknown to you. The colourfully named Ned Flanders XI will chase global glory with internationals against Morocco, Gibraltar and Spain in coming weeks.
The Ned Flanders XI?
No matter how deeply you delve into Wisden's Cricket Almanack, you might struggle to find "Ned Flanders". He is not some left-handed leg-spinner who played for North Glasgow, nor the 13th man in a rain-abandoned match at Edgbaston in 1927. However, to digress for a moment, according to The Sunday Telegraph, research has identified a new earliest-known reference to cricket in a poem which reads in part:
“O lorde of Ipocrites
Nowe shut vpp your wickettes
And clape to your clickettes!
A! Farewell, kings of crekettes!"
Cricket Belgium notes that the reported timing of this poem (c. 1530) fits with claims a number of years ago that a painting or paintings by the Flemish Master Pieter Breugel the Elder (c. 1525 – 1569) showed a form of cricket in Flanders in the mid-16th century. But, as we noted, this was a mere digression suitable for mentioning on the fouth day on a slow pitch at Lords.
Ned Flanders is, in fact, a character from the television cartoon series The Simpsons, and a neighbour of Homer Simpson, who loathes him.
Matt and some of the "good blokes"
Led by inspirational skipper and founding "Flandersman" Matt Young, the touring party from Australia aim to build on victories over cricket powerhouses Vanuatu in 2006 and Japan in 2008.
"Japan were ranked 29th in the world by the International Cricket Council when we beat them on their home turf, or should I say plastic matting," Young said. "We're going to countries that are not big on the world stage of cricket, spreading the word on what we believe is the greatest game in the world."
Formed in Brisbane in 1997, the Flanders XI played a local Twenty20 competition last season - and won.
A Bunch of Good Blokes!
"The bigger picture is the ethos of the team. I'd rather have a good bloke than a good cricketer in the side," Young said.
Vice-captain Steve Derksen has done the bulk of organising the tour which departs Brisbane on June 23. The touring party will comprise 15 players and five wives or girlfriends who have been designated roles such as media relations and baggage commissionaire.
"It's not that hard to organise. You just get on the ICC website, find out the contact details of the cricketing bodies in places like Morocco, Gibraltar and Spain, and let them know you want to visit and have a game or two," Derksen said.
"The Moroccan board of control has been fantastic. They're hosting a reception for us, have requested background on all our players for publicity purposes and have told us they will be handling all security issues.
"Actually I'm a bit worried ... I hope they realise we're a team from Australia, not the Australian team."
The Moroccan series will encompass a 50-over match and two Twenty20 clashes with the Flanders XI taking a camel train safari into the Sahara between games to freshen up. The exotic locations of Marrakesh and Fez are on the schedule with Rabat also hosting a game.
The one match against Gibraltar will be held at the country's one and only cricket ground, which is located in the shadow of the famous rock. In Spain there is a game against the national side and, hopefully, a provincial team fielding at least one matador.
"We generally find the overseas teams include about four or five expats, Poms, South Africans, Kiwis, Aussies or Indians, and the rest are locals," Young said. "We're told a lot of the cricketers in Morocco are Pakistanis. It really gives us a kick to play against the locals. In Japan two years ago, we played against a provincial team of entirely locals. You learn a lot about yourself by travelling the world. It makes you a lot more tolerant of people."
The players self-funded the trip and a couple of smooth talkers have snared sponsorship deals.
"A few of the boys are in the medical profession, a couple of teachers and a few country boys. And we always have an accountant (Brett Whalley) in the side to ensure everyone is compliant with the Australian Taxation Office. He also keeps a file on those who habitually borrow money from teammates.
The Flanders XI combine culture with cricket and their excellent website displays examples of the club's cricketing deeds captured in verse or on canvas.
"I've always said I'd rather have a good bloke in the team rather than a good cricketer," Young reiterated. "We like to do other things as well ... a bit of culture never hurt anyone."
Schedule - The View from Fez will try and locate the cricket grounds as soon as possible!
- -Wed 30/06/2010 - Ned Flanders XI vs Morocco
- Mon 05/07/2010 - Ned Flanders XI vs Morocco (Exhibition match in Marrakesh)
- Thu 08/07/2010 - Ned Flanders XI vs Morocco (Two 20/20