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The forgotten sport

André LeslieJuly 10, 2012

Few know that cricket was once a popular pastime in Germany, with Berlin alone having over 30 grounds at the turn of the last century. These days, cricketers are struggling to get any recognition at all.

The German national team pose with their second place medals at the World Cricket League Division 8 tournament in Kuwait.
Image: ICC

At a cricket ground in Bochum in western Germany, moles have turned the outfield into a maze of mud piles and holes. The hosts, the Bochum Cricket Club, are busy repairing the ground so it is safe to use for today's game. The warm-ups have been postponed. Welcome to life in the first division of Germany's Cricket Bundesliga.

Dilshan Rajudeen is captain and coach of the visiting Bonn CC team. Having lived in Germany for seven years, he also qualified to become a member of the national team. Originally from Sri Lanka, Rajudeen played cricket there as a professional. For him, adjusting to playing in Germany took some time.

"The level here in Germany is so much lower than what I was playing in Sri Lanka. I'd say it's about equal to our fourth division back home," says the 27-year-old.

National team player Dilshan Rajudeen prepares to hit a ball during indoor training.
A lack of proper outdoor cricket facilities often means Dishan Rajudeen is forced to train indoorsImage: Besim Mazhiqi

A surprisingly long history

Although often exclusively associated with Commonwealth nations, cricket began in Germany well over a century ago. From 1891 onwards, cricket matches were organized by the Leipzig-based German Football and Cricket Association, a forerunner to the now famous football Bundesliga.

After developing into a popular pastime nationwide in the late 1890s, especially in Berlin, cricket's popularity in Germany dropped away rapidly after the Second World War. At the same time, interest in German soccer increased. It wasn't until the occupying British troops re-introduced the game that competition cricket was played again in Germany.

Currently, there are 80 cricket clubs Germany-wide, with numbers increasing quickly. The majority of players come from overseas; German-born cricketers remain a rarity.

National team player André Leslie catches a ball during a match against Botswana.
DW journalist André Leslie plays for Germany, but learned all his cricket skills in SydneyImage: ICC/Ian Jacobs

Work takes priority

Brian Mantle, the general manager of the German Cricket Association (DCB) says the reason for the low number of Germans in the national team can easily be explained. "People here just don't know what cricket is," says Mantle. "They mix it up with other sports. I'm a big guy, nearly two meters tall. When they hear I am a cricket fan they often ask how hard it is for the horse, because they think it is polo. Or, they confuse it with croquet."

Those players that do make it to the national team struggle to balance work and playing competitively, according to Mantle. Many come from Asian nations where cricket is played professionally. Now, they represent their new homeland on an unpaid basis. They get work where they can, in restaurants or as taxi-drivers, and often work very long hours.

No headlines

"We would love to get more of the public's attention," admits Asif Khan, the current captain of the German national team. "Even a small report in a newspaper ahead of an important tournament or game would really help us."

The 35-year-old says the national team has been performing well recently, moving from a world ranking of 50 up to 39. "I am really proud of what we achieved in the last three international tournaments. Unfortunately, no one really reported on it."

Germany captain Asif Khan shakes hands with the captain of Botswana captain Akrum Chand before their match in Gaborone in May 2011.
Germany captain Asif Khan (left) would like to see his team get more recognitionImage: ICC/Ian Jacobs

In addition to more media coverage, the sport's administrators also acknowledge the need for greater sponsorship. The financial support given to the DCB by the International Cricket Council doesn't go far when organizing the country's 4,000 active cricketers. "Our numbers are rising fast but our top players are based in different cities, at opposite ends of the country," Mantle explains. "Bringing them together for training is very difficult."

Don't mention the horse

At the ground in Bochum, the mole holes are now covered over and the Bundesliga game between Bonn CC and Bochum has got underway. National player Rajudeen is sitting with some of his teammates, with his bat in his hand, waiting to start his innings. Today, he's happy that most of his players are available, opting to play cricket rather than work.

"You rarely get money to play cricket in Germany. If we were getting paid, it would all be more professional and it would help develop cricket here," he says.

At the same time, Brian Mantle believes that trying to lift cricket to the same level of popularity in Germany as soccer is unrealistic. "There is no one in German cricket that is seriously aiming for that. All I want is that when I talk to someone about cricket, they don't ask me about the horse."

DW's André Leslie was born in Sydney, Australia. He has played cricket for Germany since 2010 after moving to the country in 2005.