Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 February 2020

Jersey in touching distance of achieving the impossible dream — reaching a World T20

Paul Radley talks to Jersey cricketers who want to do their tiny island proud on the world stage.
Jersey player celebrate a wicket during a warmup match against Scotland. Donald MacLeod / ICC
Jersey player celebrate a wicket during a warmup match against Scotland. Donald MacLeod / ICC

At the end of March, 93,013 people, including Derek Jeter, the recently retired New York Yankees player, attended the cricket World Cup final between Australia and New Zealand.

This month, a small island off the coast of France, whose entire population is about same as the capacity of the Melbourne Cricket Ground, will be playing for the chance to go to cricket’s next global showpiece.

Had the 50-over World Cup final taken place in Jersey, rather than Australia, everyone in the country could have gone to watch and there would only have been a few people left outside the ground.

The Channel island, whose population is approximately 99,000, is probably better known to people of the UAE for its offshore bank accounting than it is its cricket team. Now, though, they are only a few steps away from sharing a cricket field with the sport’s most recognisable players.

In May, Jersey topped European Division 1, which also included Denmark and Italy, who each played at the last T20 qualifier in Dubai, as well as Guernsey, Norway and France.

As such, they landed the chance to play alongside cricket’s best sides from beyond the Test elite for the chance to qualify for the World Twenty20 in India next year.

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“It is an unbelievable thought,” said Peter Gough, a 30-year-old batsman for Jersey. “Imagine bowling to Virat Kohli or trying to get on top of one of their bowling attack.

“The opportunity doesn’t come around often in a Jersey cricketer’s lifetime to be one tournament away from a World Cup, so we are going to do everything we can to perform our best, enjoy ourselves, stick together and that may just give us a chance.”

Despite the challenges facing a side who have such a small pool of players to choose from, Gough says they are not at the qualifier in Scotland and Ireland this month just to make up the numbers.

“We are immensely proud to be representing our country in a global tournament,” he said.

“Success would be to qualify for the World Cup. Success will be to take on the opposition, back what we have been working on, trust ourselves and be positive under pressure.

“We are going over to compete hard and try and win games of cricket. Success would also be to represent our country with pride and make the people who are involved in cricket at home proud of us.”

If they make good on that aim, and qualify for India, the disparity between the cricketing experiences of them and their Indian Premier League millionaire hosts — as well as everyone else in the competition — will be vast.

Jersey’s players are part-timers, participating in evening and weekend leagues, which includes a five-team premier league.

The small amount of first-class cricket experience they have to share between them has come via appearances for UK university sides against counties.

Corne Bodenstein and Nat Watkins both played first-class cricket while doing further education, while Jonty Jenner is on the academy staff of the English county side Sussex.

According to Chris Minty, the chief executive of the Jersey Cricket Board, their cricket resources have developed markedly of late, with paid coaches employed to oversee their junior teams.

“Cricket in Jersey aims to be as professional as possible on and off the field,” Minty said.

“Our coaching and development programmes are strong, and while we could not sustain professional players we work hard to be as professional as possible.”

Jersey’s players will know there is much to be done to navigate a group that includes Ireland, the hosts and favourites to win the qualifying tournament, plus the likes of Nepal and Papua New Guinea, who have made rapid advances in recent years.

They will still be forgiven, though, for daydreaming about what could lie ahead if all went to plan — the chance of sharing the limelight with players such as David Warner, MS Dhoni and Eoin Morgan.

“I’ve often thought about it, and it’s exciting and terrifying in equal measure,” said Tom Minty, a seam-bowler for Jersey.

“Taking on and beating some of the big boys of world cricket has been a long time coming. We’re ready for it.

“We knew we had a great chance” in European Division 1 in May.

“We tend to do well on home soil. The last tournament we had here, we were unbeaten.

“We knew our main rivals, Italy and Denmark, were beatable if we played well. We knew how much work we had all put in both individually and as a unit.”

pradley@thenational.ae

FOLLOW US ON TWITTER @NatSportUAE

Updated: July 7, 2015 04:00 AM

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