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|Postal Address:||Rahumae Tee 6b-25 Tallinn 11316 Harjumaa, Estonia|
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Cricket has been played in Tallinn, Estonia for over 10 years. Since then it has gone from a knock about on the local football pitch, to having an ICC-recognised team, competing alongside teams from all over Europe.
The game was first played in Estonia in 1998. An Estonian businessman returned from a trip to Australia obsessed with cricket and was determined to make a success of it in his native country. He approached a local Indian restaurateur based in Tallinn and, knowing his love for the game, arranged a match between some local bemused Estonians, versus the staff of Estonia's premier Indian restaurant. The result may have been forgotten, but the outcome has gone down in history. This was the day Estonian cricket was formed.
At first it was Indian restaurant employees, which consisted of Russians, Ukrainians, Georgians and the odd Indian, against Estonians or local expats. As word grew, so did the team. The ground moved from a football pitch to a patch of ground in the middle of Tallinn's race course, the Hippodrome. An artificial pitch was laid, and all of a sudden, the Estonian cricketers had a home.
In 2004, the Estonian Cricket Association was formed. A board of directors was voted and appointed and were tasked with developing the game in Estonia. Main focus points were improving the standard of play, encouraging more Estonian nationals to play, and to get more children and schools involved.
These goals were helped by a donation of cricket kit and junior training sets from the International Cricket Council. Although Estonia wasn't officially recognised as a cricket-playing nation by the ICC, it could be classified as having ?non-affiliate? status, which meant that the team had aspirations to one day compete under ICC rules and regulations on a European basis. The new supply of cricket bats and balls - understandably hard to buy in Estonian sports shops - helped improve the standard of cricket immediately, and gave the Board and the team a real determination to succeed at a higher level. The junior kits were given to local schools, and a demonstration of the game was led by the Lord?s Taverners, which provided great insight and fun for all involved.
The end of the summer season in 2006 saw the introduction of winter training. By now, the cricket side had grown to some 30-plus members. These players were not happy at not being unable to play their beloved sport during Estonia's winter months. The nights were too dark, the air too cold, and the ice on Harku lake, quite frankly, too icy. Kalev Spoordihall was the perfect venue. An indoor tennis court was booked, and every Wednesday night the players met for training. Having such a small area to practice had its disadvantages, but it had its advantages too. Soft balls were used, which meant that the game was now much more accessible to beginners. Dads started bringing their sons to training who, in turn brought their schoolfriends. Spectators at Kalev sports hall watched in bewilderment as ball hit bat but, more often than not, these spectators brought their kit with them the following week and joined the cricket players in the middle for some catching practice. The importance of this was that not only was the team developing its own skills, but the team was growing as well.
2007 saw the beginning of the domestic league game in Estonia. Such was the number of members, it was now possible to assign each player to one of four teams and play in a round robin league format. Reval C.C, Tallinn Old Boys, Kalev C.C and Tallin C.C, all took part over the season from May until September. Reval C.C, captained by Andres Burget, won the first-ever domestic league, and a proud Burget will go down as the first Estonian to hold the cup aloft.
The domestic league did not stop the touring teams coming to Tallinn, and this meant that the Estonian cricket team was now able to field a first eleven and a development eleven, thus giving the less experienced players in the club a chance to prove themselves against serious touring opposition, and give the first eleven players a well earned break. The season was made up of approximately 60 games taking place every Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
As Tallinn became easier to get to for those travelling by plane, and as the jungle drums of the cricket world announced that cricket was played in the Baltics, they came. Teams from the Netherlands, Finland and the United Kingdom all arrived with grey visions of Eastern Bloc outfall, but all left with happy faces of Estonian hospitality and glowing reports of cricket.
Estonia's first-ever away fixture was in the Helsinki Sixes competition against hosts Finland in 2003. Although the team came second to a vastly-experienced Finnish side, the team took heart that it reached the final, beating several Danish and Finnish league teams en route. This defeat would harden the team and help form a more serious structure for Estonian cricket.
Throughout 2005 and 2006, over 40 touring teams came to play Estonia in Tallinn. The idea that these teams would come over and beat the ?locals? by ten wickets had now long since gone. Estonia was able to compete on a level playing field, and those that know the Hippodrome know that this is not an easy task, and in many cases it was Estonia, which was winning by 10 wickets. Many touring teams arrived thinking that the Estonian team was made up of ringers and expats, but were surprised to see the names Kogerman, Burget, Kämbre and Uueni in the starting eleven.
In 2008, Estonia took part in a UK Euro Twenty20 completion with teams from Russia, Croatia, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Poland and Wales. Arriving in the UK and playing on a grass wicket was a new experience for many of the Estonian touring members in the side but, in typical Estonian manner, the team quietly and confidently reached the final without being asked too many questions. The opposition in the final was the Czech Republic, which Estonia had already beaten in the group phases, but it took a last over four for the Estonians to repeat the feat and win the Euro Twenty20 competition.
That same year Estonia also participated once again in the Helsinki Sixes with both Estonia A and B teams winning their respective competitions. Everyone thought the win was well deserved, and this was backed up by Estonian players winning the best batsman, best bowler and best overall player awards. A truly fitting end to a magnificent season.
Joining the ICC
2008 proved to be a momentous year for the Estonian Cricket Association. In January, a representative of ICC Europe came over to Estonia to assess the quality of cricket in Estonia. The Estonian Cricket Association was advised that it should apply for ICC Affiliate status and, if the outcome was successful, it would enter the ICC European Division Five alongside Sweden, Czech Republic, Greece and other Affiliate hopefuls Bulgaria. The application was submitted and later that year Estonia became an Affiliate Member. After years of hard work and development, Estonia was now ready to take cricket up a level and compete on the international stage.
Growing the sport
Plans to introduce the game to Tartu, Pärnu and Narva are underway and, when this happens, it can truly be said that cricket is an Estonian sport. As luck would have it, Estonian TV picked up on the newest sport in Estonia, and did a feature on the national team. Having the sport aired on prime time TV, brought 40 new Estonian players to the club during the following month, including 12 women. The grass roots for future Estonian cricket players has certainly been sown.
When Estonian cricket was first played on a football field over a decade ago, none of those players would have ever dreamt that one day they might be representing Estonia playing in Greece or Bulgaria. Estonian cricket, like its nation, is a true example of what can be achieved if one's mind is set on something. Just like Estonia making its first steps into Europe in 2004, the Estonian Cricket Association were looking to do the same on the playing field during the summer of 2009. The national team may have only gained just one victory in five matches on their international debut in European Championship Division Five - held in Greece in September 2009 - but the enthusiasm remains to ensure further progress should follow.