Bogotá to host 2018 South American Cricket Championships after Colombia nabs fifth place in Brazil
A Colombian cricket team – weakened by its stronger players having left the country, a lack of availability and even president Santos’ visit to the UK – took to a polo field on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro in late October for the country’s second ever appearance at the South American Championships.
A tough start to the tournament – against reigning champions Argentina and host nation Brazil – meant that Colombia was even further up against the odds. But the squad gave some spirited performances to return with a respectable fifth place finish, ahead of 2014 champions Mexico.
Moreover, the squad’s performances and fast-growing reputation as the most sociable cricket side in the Americas led to the cafeteros being invited by the more established cricketing countries to host the 2018 tournament.
This invitation was swiftly accepted, giving Colombia a chance to cement itself as a permanent fixture in the Latin American cricket scene.
Work will begin almost immediately on preparing the logistics for that tournament, with Bogotá the likely venue for the cricketing community to show off the best of the country. But despite the admirable performances this year, there is much hard work to come on the field if Colombia are to have a chance of winning the tournament they plan to host.
With the team’s opening bowling stalwart called to duty in London as Santos jetted off for Britain, Colombia faced up to a big-hitting Argentina team that had brought an even stronger side — on paper — than the one that triumphed in Santiago de Chile 12 months earlier.
With a lightning-quick outfield and the Colombians struggling to consistently hit the right areas, the Argentines built an imposing total of 224/5 in 20 overs. Without last year’s tournament leading scorer Chris Laas, nor his prolific opening partner Rob McHugh, chasing was always going to be a tall order and the Colombians ended up collapsing to 94 all out.
The next day against Brazil the Colombians could perhaps count themselves unlucky as they found themselves facing an opening bowler who had Pakistan A performances to his name. Most unlucky of all was the fact that — after bowling three overs of 85mph yorkers and bouncers and leaving Colombia quite literally bruised and battered at 10/5 — the bowler pulled up with a side injury that left him out of the tournament. His 18 ball reign of terror had been exclusively reserved for the Colombians, who did not recover and again lost easily.
By the time it was Mexico’s turn to face Colombia, no more than pride was at stake in the dead rubber. Colombia is a famously proud nation and her cricket team is no different: a comprehensive victory followed with Medellín CC players Abhas Shrivastava (4-13) and Aman Gil (48 not out) leading with ball and bat respectively. Colombia put up more of a fight against the impressive Peruvians and the formidable eventual champions Chile, but also lost to end the tournament with a record of won one, lost four.
On paper, it looked tough, and — in the words of all-rounder Guy Leslie — Christ the Redeemer was constantly looking over the games, signalling wides. There was, however, much to encourage the Colombian party.
Firstly, the team had far greater participation from non-Bogotá based players, with two travelling up from Cali and four from Medellín. Secondly, the team spirit never failed despite the absence of the country’s more experienced players being keenly felt.
Thirdly and most important, Kevin Martínez became the first graduate of Cali Cricket Club’s academy to represent his country. His promising performances with the bat and in the field in particular suggest that there is much potential for success not just with a stronger expat community but among the steadily growing local Colombian players.
Much to work on ahead of next year’s tour to Buenos Aires and the 2018 South American Cricket Championship in Bogotá, but the promise of a home tournament should galvanise the sport in Colombia, encouraging progress and drawing attention to the sport.
By Olly West