The ball missed the bat, and hit those three sticks behind. Now, the man who holds the bat is out—he will leave after scoring 20 points and a new player will replace him,” shouts the commentator.
It’s a scene out of the movie Lagaan but the venue is not an unmapped village in pre-independent India and there is no tax benefit at stake. It’s a village called Karlovcic in Serbia and it loves new experiences. For instance, they constructed one of the widest roads in the world, not because they needed it but just to create a record. Now, this village is learning to understand cricket.
Karlovcic, 20km from Belgrade, not only hosted Serbia’s first competitive club match between Carmel and District CC from Cardiff, UK, and the Serbian Cricket Federation in June last year, but also declared a holiday for local schools so that the youth would get to experience a cricket match.
The man partly responsible for this interest in cricket is an Indian. Personal reasons took Amberish Sarang, a 29-year-old media professional-turned-entrepreneur, to Serbia three years ago from Mumbai and what he missed the most was the lack of anything Indian, including cricket.
Most Indians he knew there were older men in their 50s who could not match his fitness, but through common friends he came across a bunch of children who were eager to learn.
Sarang recalls the match against Cardiff, when “everybody wanted our autographs, and they wanted us to write on their hands and shirts in our mother tongue”.
He laughs when he talks about the first practice session three years ago. “Importing equipment was costly. We were just starting and didn’t have funds, so we played cricket with a baseball bat and tennis ball.”
For the first time, Serbia participated in the European Twenty20 tournament, which was supported by International Cricket Council (ICC) Europe, in Skopje, Macedonia, from 10-17 July, and finished seventh. The team will also apply soon for ICC affiliation. “This process takes time and they need to meet a number of criteria to do so. They should do that either late this year or next. ICC Europe has been supporting them in many ways, with facilities and equipment,” an ICC statement said.
Sarang, who played that ICC tournament, helped push-start several cricket clubs over the last few years with two friends. Three of these clubs are in Belgrade, including his club Mirijevo Cricket Club, while others are scattered over Serbia.
Cricket in the country has come a long way, though two players still share a kit. They are in the processof getting their own ground, have managed to gather a support community to stand as umpires, photographers and scorekeepers. “It’s important to have neutral umpiresand maintain a score book if you want to apply for recognition from ICC. So we also have expatriates helping us. For instance, our scorekeeper is an employee of the British embassy. Since her judgement will be neutral, she qualifies,” says Sarang.
The team that Sarang has created and nurtured comprises chefs, doctors, engineers and policemen. There are also sportsmen who had to retire prematurely from their main disciplines due to injuries.
“Serbs are sports-loving people. So although we don’t have champion cricketers, we have a pool of people who are fit and love to play. So we try to make the most of whatever resources we have. There is someone who used to play handball but no longer can. He knows how to throw a ball and he is our fastest bowler.”
The sport has also helped build a platform for Asians living in Eastern Europe. “Most teams have more people of Asian origin, so sometimes they bring us masalas or pickles.”
The players spend their own money for equipment and travel. “We prefer hosting a team as it saves time and money. We organize their stay and hold an informal party. It’s important that we don’t exhaust ourselves completely because we all work as well.”