Saturday, January 17, 2015

Cricket in Morocco ~ Getting the Runs on the Board

"Morocco's Salah El Mouridi reached his half century with a well-timed cover drive for four. Unfortunately in the following over, Moussaoui, who had bowled so well on the first day, taking six wickets for twenty-nine, failed to keep out a regulation yorker from Rwanda's Vardhineni and was dismissed for seventeen."
Yes, we are talking cricket in Morocco. A few years ago the notion would have seemed, implausible, or at best, fanciful. Yet, strange as it may seem, cricket is played in Morocco and the country even has a world class stadium, devoted to the game. There is also a national squad operated by the Federation Royale Marocaine De Cricket.

After being granted affiliate membership of the International Cricket Council (ICC) in 1999 the Moroccan team made its international debut 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. Their most recent international activity has been in the ICC-Africa Division 3 tournament in Benoni, South Africa where the team finished 6th.

The Morocco National Cricket Stadium in Tangier is an ICC approved ground capable of hosting full internationals and has hosted a one One Day International triangular tournament, the Morocco Cup in 2002, where Sri Lanka won ahead of South Africa and Pakistan.

The introduction of the game to Morocco is due to the entrepreneurial spirit of Abdul Rahman Bukhatir, the man who took cricket to the Gulf state of Sharjah 20 years ago. He built the £20 million complex in Tangier and intends to make money from it through selling television rights to international games and by bringing in European cricket teams in the winter using the lure of good weather and a luxury sports centre.

Abdul Rahman Bukhatir

Cricket got a kick start a decade ago thanks to a team of coaches sent out across the country to try and win converts to the game. This resulted in some 600 young men competing to play in one of the nine clubs.

At the time, Gary Cosier, who played Test cricket for Australia in the 1970s said "It's good that in some of the streets you now see the sticks out and kids are playing cricket. It gives them something to do as they really have nothing else."

The Moroccan team's vice-captain Redouane El Harzli said coaches are touring the country showing videos of the game at sports clubs often meet bewilderment but he pointed to the players around him to show they are making some headway. "Those who want to play do so because it is a discipline. But most of all because there are facilities and free equipment. And one has a chance of making the national team. It is, insh'Allah, becoming popular."

Madhey Gaib, 22, one of the players, said: "It was very difficult at first." Another, Yusuf Bouhqouch, said: "At first I was afraid of the ball and did not like fielding in the slips, but I am beginning to understand it now."

Mr Cosier admitted that "we have rather put the cart before the horse. We have the stadium now we have to teach them cricket."

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