The success of Ireland in the early stages of the World Cup got me to thinking about the relative strengths and playing conditions enjoyed by the ‘minnows’ of world cricket. By minnows I do not mean the likes of the Ireland, Scotland, Netherlands and Bermuda, who will get hammered on a fairly regular basis by the likes of Australia and England. The minnows I want to touch on – who are worse than the likes of Bermuda – have Affiliate Member status, which includes Afghanistan, Belgium, Kuwait, Lesotho, Qatar, Saint Helena, and the mighty Malta. Having played cricket in Malta myself, I feel I can comment on them.
The Maltese cricket team became an affiliate member of the International Cricket Council in 1998, competed in every edition of the European Affiliates Championship from 1999 to 2005 (their best result coming in 2001 when they reached the semi finals), and currently compete in Division Three of the European Championship (which also includes Cyprus, Spain, Belgium, Portugal, Croatia, Isle of Man and Finland). There are only four clubs in Malta (Marsa CC (the biggest), Melita CC, Overseas CC and Krishna CC) and one ground at Marsa Sports Club. The unofficial rankings for Associate & Affiliate Countries, compiled by CricketEurope.com using a modified form of the ICC’s one day international ranking system, places Malta at number 51, which would – for all cricket playing nations – make them about the 61st best international cricket team in the world.
The KRA – a touring side of former Keele students and associated hangers on – toured Malta in 2004. To paint the picture, the KRA is made up of (at best) players who would play second and third XI standard at clubs where the firsts would play Premier Division standard and just below (so we were ok, but not great), mostly hung-over and under prepared following far too much beer and late nights in dodgy clubs. So, when the KRA played three games against Marsa CC in 2004, we played against six/seven then Maltese international players. Should we have been hammered by this almost first choice Malta XI on a dubious artificial strip in the middle of a leg-breaking outfield? You would have thought so, but no. We more than held our own over the first couple of games and hammered them in the last match by about 70 runs. The painful fact for Malta is that only one of them would have made the Barnes CC first XI, I took about six international wickets that week with very village medium pace, and the best Maltese players were all Australian ex-pats.
To give you an idea of the standard, the best affiliate sides are no better than half-decent English club sides whose premier players are bred playing club cricket in test playing nations. If you want to play international cricket, move to Malta and qualify there.