Reader Grant Baben reports from an unusual (but thriving) cricketing outpost – Bulgaria – that delivered an unexpected international career.
We relocated to my wife’s birthplace Bulgaria, Eastern Europe, in 2009. Not being able to ‘read the line and length’ of the mother tongue there, I took a chance to look for friends and Googled ‘Bulgarian Cricket’. One of the biggest surprises of my life was the results page. Bulgaria is a cricketing nation and had their debut on the International Cricket Arena in 2004 as an ICC level 3 affiliated country!
I immediately contacted the dean of the Sofia Sports Academy, who directed me to a club training session at a local indoor engineering school gym. Let’s just say that the guys were awesome… but their cricket was dodgy.
Having played cricket at school, club and military level, I would rate myself mediocre. I decided to pursue contacting the Bulgarian national cricket team, where the cricket was at a surprisingly high level.
Things picked up pace, and before I could blink, I was playing in an international tournament (Euro T20 Cup in Macedonia-Bulgaria, Macedonia, Hungary, Croatia, Russia, Cricket Board of Wales) facing a Russian bowler and getting Man of the Match for a 48 off far too many balls.
Our team consisted of Bulgarian nationals, Pakistanis, Indians, an Afghani, an Australian and a South African. We travelled all over beautiful Europe playing cricket which we all have a major passion for… and we were good.
I was promoted to technical director for Bulgarian cricket in 2010, and this is where the ugly side came out. Misappropriation of funding from the ICC, racism towards Asian players, match-fixing, and there were even sexual assault cases filed against a key member of the Bulgarian cricket federation.
What goes on in front of the sight screens is amazing in international cricket. It’s the darkness of the administration off the field that opens up a can of nasty worms.
As technical director I visited Lords to represent Bulgaria in 2011. The presentation given there was directed at corruption across the ICC, from the No 1 associate ICC Country in the world to the last-placed affiliate ICC country in the world. There is a little room in Hong Kong somewhere where a punter is placing a bet on a player in a cricket game in a country that you did not even know plays cricket!
Cricket is evolving quickly, but it is ‘carrying the tail’ of corruption. How legit is the game you are watching?
– Grant Baben