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The history of cricket in Portugal goes back to the days of the Peninsular War when Wellington's British troops were encamped in Lisbon. The fact that there has been an annual fixture between sides from Oporto and Lisbon, played virtually every year since 1861, gives testimony to the credentials of the cricketing establishment.
Tradition is a very important aspect of the game of cricket and the cricket administrators in Portugal aim never to lose sight of the traditions, which make the game what it is. Tradition has, however, been partially responsible for the failure to develop cricket in the country. Seen as a sport with strong English ties, it was the almost exclusive domain of a relatively small group of ex-pats and sons of British families of long-standing residence in Portugal, and although it attracted a few notable locals, cricket was never given the impetus required to make it develop.
For cricket in Portugal to go forward, it was essential that the game be spread over a much wider spectrum while still respecting the old traditions of sportsmanship and gentlemanly behaviour. With a twist of irony, the game of cricket in Portugal received a decided boost following the 1974 revolution, which saw the former Portuguese territories in Africa and the east being granted independence.
The population shift of Portuguese nationals which resulted from the political changes meant that there was an influx into metropolitan Portugal of people who had learned how to play cricket in places such as Goa (India) and Mozambique. In addition, many Portuguese ex-pats residing in Angola and Mozambique relocated to Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and South Africa where their children were soon absorbed into the local sporting culture and thus became acquainted with the intricacies and traditions of cricket. The subsequent socio-political changes in those countries then prompted a further movement to Portugal of people who had already developed a love and understanding of cricket.
The harnessing of this potential and the bringing together of this latent talent was no easy task but, with the help, guidance and understanding of the European Cricket Federation, European Cricket Council (ECC), and the International Cricket Council - Europe Office, over the past decade, the present administrators of cricket in Portugal have embarked upon a development plan which is intended to see cricket progress into a truly national game within the next few years.
The Cricket Association of Portugal was formed in 1994 and the Portuguese Cricket Federation in 2001. Portugal became an Affiliate member of the ICC in 1996.
Victory in the European Cricket Federation (then ECC, and now ICC Europe) Championship in 1995 was followed by a runner-up place in 1996 and a place in the semi-finals in the last ECF Championship in Switzerland in 1997. In Portugal's first European Cricket Council Affiliates Trophy, held in Corfu in 1999, the side finished runners-up to Greece.
An invitation to participate in the ECC (now ICC Europe) Championships in Scotland in July 2000 alongside the European ICC Associates was an honour and a compliment to Portugal's cricketers. It certainly did not disgrace itself, finishing fourth in the B section, recording victories over Greece and Israel and losing only narrowly to Gibraltar, France and Germany.
The 2001 ECC Trophy held in Austria provided Portugal's national team an opportunity to cement its position at the forefront of European cricket. It progressed to the final against the hosts without losing a game and then cruised to a nine-wicket victory to secure the highly sought-after trophy as well as an invitation to participate in the ECC Championships in Belfast in 2002. Again it did not disappoint, finishing third in the B-section, recording victories over Israel, Gibraltar and Austria.
In the 2003, 2005 and 2007 Affiliates/Division 3 Championships, the side lost momentum and finished them all in fifth position.
Their most recent international participation came in the 2009 European Championship Division Three, in La Manga, when it won just one out of its five games to finish in sixth.
Perhaps even more notable achievements have so far been realised in the six-a-side indoor version of the game (called Cricket de Salão in Portugal) for Portugal has now won the ICC European Indoor Championships on three out of the 10 occasions in which its team has competed. As newcomers and rank outsiders, the Portuguese team went home with the trophy from Versailles in France in February 1998 and a year later in Mechelen, Belgium it repeated the feat. In 2000, it lost in the semi-final to eventual champions Holland and so vengeance was particularly sweet when it beat the Dutch in the 2001 final on home turf in Mafra. In 2002, in Belgium, it failed to make the semi-finals, but in 2003 in Denmark was runners-up to the hosts. In 2004, 2005 and 2006, it finished in third place. In 2008, it again finished runners-up to Denmark in a closely contested final in Finland. Another positive was having been awarded the Player of the Tournament in 1998, 1999 and 2008.
The only league in Portuguese cricket for the last decade has been the Lisbon league, which has been played by a varying number of local clubs (between three and seven) depending on the economic activity in the area. Most recently the National League is being played by the local Lisbon-based teams and two new clubs - one from the Algarve and one from Almoster. There are four registered clubs - Asian CC, Oeiras CC, Comunidade Hindu Portuguesa CC (CHP), and Friends CC in the Lisbon area, with a club in Oporto (Oporto Cricket and Lawn Tennis Club), a club in the Algarve (Barrington's CC) and one from Almoster (Presban CC). Over the years the Asian CC has dominated the league.
One of the main problems that have troubled the league has been the search for a suitable ground. For years, it was played at the Lisbon Casuals Sports Club on a shale pitch but this, having been astro-turfed and privatised, became economically out of the reach of most cricketers. Cricket has now found a home 60kms north of Lisbon on a ground dedicated only to cricket near the village of Albergaria.
The other form of domestic competition is the Kendall Cup, which has an interesting history. In mid-October 1861, an intrepid team of cricketers made its way south from the city of Oporto in northern Portugal to the nation's capital, Lisbon. Some travelled by sea down the coastline whilst others made their way by horse-drawn carriage along the 320 kilometres of dusty, bumpy roads. On arrival, they congregated at the Lisbon Sports Club and there, on 17-18th October participated in an historic two-day cricket match with their Lisbon hosts.
Over 140 years later, this annual fixture still dominates the Portuguese cricketing calendar and every year the two sides from Oporto and Lisbon lock horns to contest for possession of the Kendall Cup. In all that time, the fixture has failed to take place on only 25 occasions with wars, revolution, epidemics and floods being cited as sufficient reason to still the sound of leather on willow on Portuguese soil. Incredibly, of the 120 games for which there exist records of results, the scales are evenly and finely balanced with Lisbon boasting 54 victories against Oporto's 52. There has been one tied match and only 10 drawn games. The reason for this somewhat unusually low number of draws is because, prior to 1975 (when the local rules were changed by mutual consent), the result was decided on first innings scores in the event of a match not being decisively completed over four innings.
Development of cricket in Portugal has been slow, especially in the junior divisions. The length of an outdoor cricket game does not appeal to the Portuguese mentality, but the shorter indoor version of the game may be more appealing. The success the national indoor team had in the 1998, 1999 and 2001 (on home soil), stimulated the start of an indoor cricket league in Lisbon in 1999, which flourished over the following years, becoming very competitive, and now having 10 competing teams playing in two pools. In the beginning, it was encouraged to have an U18 player in each team by awarding bonus points, but in the last four seasons a full U19 side has participated, reaching the semi-finals of the 2002 league. A spin-off has been the filtering through of these younger players to the outdoor league.
Indoor cricket is the one area that Portugal can use for development of the sport as facilities are relatively easy to find due to the fact that indoor football is extremely popular and uses the same facilities. As far as outdoor cricket is concerned, for many years the only facility available in the Lisbon area (where the majority of the cricketers live) was a shale pitch, which did not encourage many people to play cricket. But now a grass field is available 60kms north of Lisbon, purely dedicated to cricket. Two other grass fields are available in Portugal, one in Porto and the other in the Algarve. Both fields are mainly used for playing visiting foreign teams.
There is one Level II coach and eight recently-trained Level I coaches. In the past, despite running two introductory coaching courses, one involving 36 Portuguese teachers, inroads into Portuguese schools were non-existent, but in more recent times cricket training has being offered at St. Peter's School, about 70 km south of Lisbon, St Dominic's International School in Lisbon, and, for the first time at a Portuguese School, Escola Gaspar Correia . Funding has been a major problem with development as no funds were forthcoming from central coffers and therefore the few ready and able volunteers could only do so much. With the availability of funding from the ICC, however, they have already seen the running of a Level I coaching course and one of these coaches has managed to take cricket into a Portuguese public school for the first time.