Allez Les Bloggers – Iceland Tour 2017

At the start of 2017, we were approached by Allez Les Bloggers to be their charity partner for their tour of Iceland. We didn’t really know what to expect, as this is the first time we had partnered with a touring team, especially one going to Iceland!

As it turned out, we couldn’t have picked a better first partner. Allez Les Blogger’s fundraising efforts were incredible, given the short time scales. They have raised over £3,500 for Cricket Without Boundaries through the tour. This money will be able to support one of our ambassadors to continue their work in using cricket as a vehicle for social development in some of the world’s poorest communities.

They also wore some fantastic Cricket Without Boundaries shirts to raise our profile on the tour. We hope that this can be the start of a long relationship with the fantastic Allez Les Bloggers and their cricketing journeys.


Friday 9 June

My dear old things – in only six years, ALBCC have managed to dominate teams on both sides of Hadrian’s Wall. With a record as successful as ours, it was only a matter of time until we would seek out international opposition. Such a trip requires immense amounts of organisation, entirely contrary to our club moto – “the Bloggers never net”. I was sceptical it would all fall into place.

Not normally a fan of rising at 4am, an exception was made. Several taps of the snooze button and I was up. I put the news on and, as if by some miracle, Alex Salmond had just lost his seat in the previous day’s general election. Not only that, but my Uber driver stopped of a McDonald’s for a round of sausage, egg and cheese bagels en route to the airport. I would have awarded 6 stars had I been able to.

Weary eyed, but slightly merrier from the red wine served on board our flight, the Bloggers negotiated passport control, stocked up on essential gin supplies, and headed for the car hire desk. Bloggers Ferg and Troy had sorted an imperial Renault minibus fitted with an underpowered engine, a hefty sound-system and a bag rack ideal for empties – she was perfect. The bags were clumsily tossed in and we were off.

My first impressions of Iceland: I was struck by the barren, almost lunar-like landscape. It reminded me of Scotland, coincidently one of the spiritual homes of the Bloggers. The country seemed reasonably flat, but with mountains bursting out of the Earth’s crust and scattered like a Jackson Pollock painting.

A spirited 90 minute drive and we arrived at Þingvellir National Park. The Renault van was immediately proving herself to be a reliable chariot. The park lies in a rift valley that marks the crest of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and the boundary between the North American tectonic plate and the Eurasian.

We were joined on tour by two debutants: Jules Read and Max Brewer. Both hadn’t hesitated when given the last minute call-up, and had instantly ingratiated themselves with the group – exactly the sort of attitude to catch the selectors’ attention. I was mesmerised when Max told the group that he had a left a party at his own flat just to make the flight out.

By now starving, we refuelled at the gift shop. The Bloggers were totally bemused by the Krona/GBP exchange rate, splashing out on £10 Daim ice-creams. Whilst extortionate, they were delicious. We ambled around the national park soaking in the beautiful views and discussing fielding placements.

Our second stop was one of Iceland’s many infamous hot springs – Gamla Laugin – which is commonly referred to as ‘The Secret Lagoon’. It is reportedly one of the oldest springs of its kind in Iceland, having first been used in 1891. Given the number of people there, I suspect the ‘secret’ might be out, and a name change may be in order.

We stripped down and jumped in. I watched intently as many fellow bathers’ heads’ turned – perhaps more a result of the tennis ball we were inevitably flinging around, than the athletic bodies now on show. The water is very pleasant; providing the surreal experience of swimming in a gigantic (shared) bath tub. Swim closer to the spring and the water gets hotter, just like when you turn the hot tap on to top up the temperature 20 minutes into a bath.

We re-clothed, shared a brusque bottle of Famous Grouse, and motored back Reykjavik to find our Air BnB and a pre-match meal. Blogger Troy had arranged two neighbouring apartments near the city centre with the perfect number of beds. Being a man of impeccable honour and manners, I assume he had an immaculate feedback record on Air BnB, and so we are all very grateful to him for really putting that on the line for this trip.

What better way is there to recover from an early start and long day of travelling than by having a massive mediocre pizza? With that in mind, the Bloggers headed around the corner from our accommodation to Devito’s.

What Mr Devito lacked in culinary finesse and Italian authenticity, he made up for in efficiency – feeding eleven bloggers at breakneck speed. Blogger Ferg showed promising pre-match form eating a 16 inch pizza, 2 additional slices in the queue, and several pieces of bread and cheese outside afterwards.

After a massive feed, it was back to Blogden for a quick carb induced snooze for all. In hindsight this, amongst several other things, was not the best preparation for ALBCC biggest ever fixture.

We gathered ourselves lethargically (and obviously behind schedule), put the whites on, and loaded into the Renault. Ferg, expertly navigated by Troy, took us on a winding route to the ground, spurred on by the stirring sound of Highland Cathedral banging out of the sound-system.

8:00pm isn’t the typical time to toss up for a game of cricket. But Iceland is not a typical place. Our opponents make do with a 4G football pitch as their home ground. The ‘square’ is surrounded by tower-blocks and an indoor football pitch at each end, with another football pitch and a complex of pony stables making up the two square boundaries. There are several ‘local rules’ which I am still struggling to get my head around. Needless to say, poor light is not deemed appropriate to stop play.

Skipper Ferg lost the toss and we were asked to field. In hindsight, a bad toss to lose, given the diminished light we would later have to bat in.

While we waited for their openers to pad up, the new ALBCC caps were handed out in an emotionally charged ceremony. Our last set of ALBCC caps were a bit of a disaster, if we are honest, sporting the wrong name and being rather below par in terms of quality. I guess that’s expected when you ask for bespoke caps to be made in a Jordanian factory. This time, we’d bought British; a slight glimmer of hope that actually things wouldn’t be so bad once we leave the EU.

We were also playing in new strips, sporting the ‘Cricket Without Boundaries’ logo on the back – a charity we were really proud to be supporting on the trip. CWB works to deliver cricket development alongside health and social messages across several sub-Saharan countries. Their principle belief is a simple one that we can all get behind; sport – particularly cricket – should be inclusive and accessible for all. They correctly recognise that cricket has a unique way of bringing people together. CWB uses its access in communities to educate people against the practices of FGM, and the spread of infectious diseases such as HIV.

To those who have never played cricket on a 4G football pitch, I can offer the following analogy:

On the concrete path at the back door of my old school boarding house, I used to play quick cricket with a tennis ball in the summer (exam) term, being careful to avoid windows (especially Matron’s). I think that’s as close as I have ever come to playing on a pitch like this. The ball slows drastically as it pitches, bounces unexpectedly high, and turns at right angles. We of course relished the challenge.


ALBCC XI – Iceland Tour 2017
Back: J Scattergood, P Cudmore, J Read, F Maclehose (Capt.), T Powell.
Front: B Lyons, R Patterson, J Irwin-Brown, H Elwess, C Wedgewood, M Brewer.

The new ball was handed to debutant Read, who showed good pace and rhythm, ably matched at the other end by Lyons. Two early wickets fell to Read and Patterson, and we thought we were in amongst them. What happened next is a dark chapter for the Bloggers. The less said the better really, but if you drop 10 catches; you will inevitably end up chasing a big score. The fielding display was slightly redeemed at the end of the innings by two sharp run-outs and a wicket for Lyons.

We were set 266 to win with 30 overs to chase.

We gorged ourselves on the chocolate crepes our hosts had prepared for tea, and washing it down with the king of soft drinks, Rio. It was a big contrast from our usual mid-match sustenance of pork pies and pots of Earl Grey. It was a welcome change, and I personally found the food exceptionally moreish.

Given the deteriorating light, and our desperation to make amends for the fielding display, our openers padded up quickly.

For those familiar with the ‘What happened next…’ segment of A Question of Sport, the first delivery of our innings presented the perfect case study

Wedgewood took first ball from the apartment block end. The bowler, perhaps himself laden with crepes, trundled in for what can be best described as a loosener. A fairly rank long hop was the result. Wedgewood’s eyes lit up as he heaved the willow into a tremendous crescendo against the ball, which was undoubtedly destined for the boundary. As if by some stroke of genius, their sagelike skipper had positioned a short leg directly in the ball’s trajectory. A colossal thud echoed around the ground as the ball struck the brave fielder’s patella, sending the ball high into the air, and resulting in a straightforward catch for the dumbstruck bowler.

This set the tone for what was a fairly disastrous batting display. Ducks for Scattergood and Maclehose followed with the Bloggers struggling to dig in. We’d relished the challenge of the unique playing surface, but frankly had been found wanting. As the top order collapsed around us, Reykjavik was producing some of the most stunning twilight skies, characterised by a colour palate similar to Henry Blofeld’s trouser collection.

It fell to debutant Brewer to offer some resilience, top scoring with 40 not out. He really dug us out of a hole and impressed the selectors. He was joined by Lyons at the tail of the innings, who added a valuable 20 not out. With around ten overs remaining, the rain set in and the teams decided to call it a night. The Bloggers 100% record on tour was thankfully intact.

Call me old fashioned but I’ve never really recognised the work of Messrs Frank Duckworth and Tony Lewis. It goes entirely against the spirit of the game, not to mention its flawed method calculation heavily rewarding defensive batting (entirely at odds to the Bloggers’ raison d’être).

We loaded up the Renault and headed back to the Blogden. I was particularly impressed with the manner in which our debutants had handled themselves both on and off the pitch. They had added quality, enthusiasm, and some fairly strong conversation to the group – giving the selectors a lot to think about overnight ahead of the deciding fixture.

It was fair to say the party was collectively shattered. After a ALBCC cabinet tête-à-tête, it was confirmed that no changes would be made to the XI for the following morning’s fixture. After a few drinks to celebrate our 100% record on tour, the group split. Half the party did the wise thing, hitting the hay to rest up. The other half of us did the inventible; we headed out to discover the city’s nightlife.

At this point things get slightly hazy, so forgive me for the lack of details. I will however never forget stumbling out of an establishment at an ungodly hour to find the most striking vista across the city’s harbour. The sun was at its lowest, straining to remain just above the horizon, the wind had disappeared, and the water was as calm as could be. I felt as if I had been dropped into a Turner painting. We stood in awe for several minutes drinking in the wonder, before heading off for some late night sandwiches from the all-night supermarket.

Saturday 10 June

The Bloggers are not suited to the mornings. In a curious move, someone had decided to schedule the second match against out hosts, a T20, at 9:30am. I was dumbfounded when the waft of bacon, eggs, and toast hit my nostrils and jolted me awake. Clearly in mid-season form, Bloggers Elwess, Wedgewood, and Read had cooked up a mighty feast for the party. They rallied the troops and somehow, stunningly, we were on the road at 9:25am.

Back to the 4G pitch, but this time infinitely fresher, and wiser to the playing conditions. The toss was won and we opted to field. The tried and tested formula of Read and Lyons taking the new ball worked wonders, with several early wickets falling. Further wickets fell to Cudmore and Powell, aided by a far sharper fielding display all round. Our hosts struggled to get any sort of momentum, crucial to making a decent score in such a short format.

After 20 overs, some precision bowling had reduced Iceland to 99-8. The stage was set for redemption.

Making amends for the previous evening, there were early runs for Wedgewood and Scattergood – the former retiring having made 25 rapidly. The chase was advanced efficiently by the quick scoring Irwin-Brown and Maclehose. The decisive blows came from Patterson and Brewer in the tenth over, only three wickets down. The emphatic victory will no doubt have sent shudders around the corridors of the ICC.

Abhi, the Icelandic skipper, was presented an ALBCC cap and honorary membership to our esteemed club – an incredible accolade – which he took with tremendous grace. He had been instrumental in arranging the fixture, and we are grateful to him – it was an amazing and unique experience which we shall never forget.

We de-padded and congregated around the Icelandic dugout for a feast of spaghetti Bolognese which had been kindly prepared by one of our opponents’ wives. She was also offered honorary membership.

We found our hosts generous, polite, and, most importantly, incredibly enthusiastic about cricket. It would be easy to dismiss the game in Iceland; but our new friends show a great deal of resilience trying to build the sport locally. Given the countries long and dark winters, it is no wonder they are so keen to play late into the summer nights. They tour regularly, and we would recommend for anyone to offer them a game if you can.

We headed back to the Blogden in the trusty Renault for showers and to refresh ourselves. After a round of essential team gins, the group split. Half escaped to the countryside with their fishing rods, determined to catch supper; the other half into the city to explore

How to describe Reykjavik’s fundamentalist architecture? Perhaps the Icelandics are the only people to have taken creative inspiration from the Soviet Union. Pebble dashed walls, corrugated iron roofs, and aluminium framed windows characterised the monotony.

My personal theory is that is so cold, builders will do anything to get the thing up quickly.

The undisputed stars of the city’s skyline are the concrete mecca of Hallgrímskirkja, a stone’s throw from our accommodation, and the contrastingly designed Harpa Concert Hall. The former is a towering mass of greyness designed to look like the trap rocks that pepper some of Iceland’s most striking scenery, and the latter a glass monolith inspired by the country’s basalt landscape.

Several Bloggers did manage a trip to Hallgrímskirkja, however an on-going concert deprived us the chance to walk up the 75m spire. Slightly stiff from the earlier match, this was a godsend if you ask me. It didn’t stop us from taking a few snaps, one of which is likely to be the on the cover of ALBCC’s debut album.

This was followed by a swift walk through the city centre and a stop off at Bryggjan Brugghús, a contemporary Icelandic brewery. After sampling the local produce, we took a much needed cab back to the Blogden to reconvene.

No fish had been caught.

Our party congregated for the prestigious tour awards ceremony. Prizes were awarded for Tour Head of Morale – Irwin-Brown; Moment of Tour – Wedgewood for the first ball calamity; Shot of Tour – Elwess for one of his trademark Gower-esque strokes behind square on the off-side; Player of the Tour – Brewer; and the main award of Man of Tour – jointly awarded to the Kiwi contingent, Powell and Read. We were all felt like winners though.

We re-dressed in our tour evening wear – a lovely woollen jumper with the ALBCC logo proudly adorning the chest. We toasted our 100% record over several gins and hatched a plan for supper. Merrily, we headed out into the city to enjoy the festivities.

Amazingly, word of our success must have spread like wildfire. The city was heaving with locals keen to speak to us. Every bar we entered we attracted throngs of Icelandic revellers, keen to know what we were doing and what on earth cricket was. Explaining the LBW rule to a muggle is, at the best of times, very difficult, however trying to do so in someone’s second (or third) language is even more troublesome.

Most interestingly, I do recall speaking to someone who identified themselves as Iceland’s Minister for Sport in a bar garden we were occupying – a useful connection for ALBCC to make, especially given our global ambitions. Subsequent internet searches have failed to properly verify her claims – however, I will take her at her word. The internet is full of lies.

After a round of delicious burgers, we found ourselves teaching scrummaging technique to a group of burly looking local men. Whilst we would rather it were cricket, we were at least pleased to have exported one of our nation’s great sports.

It felt like we did our bit for Britain on the international stage. Judging by the state that we had left our political system in only 36 hours earlier, our help was very much needed. Theresa, if you are still prime minister when you read this, the Bloggers are available for trade missions.

The Icelandics are an unpretentious, friendly, and outgoing bunch. They deserve much credit for developing a wonderful destination for tourists (and cricketers).

While we busily acquainted ourselves with the locals, a couple of ALBCC cold water swimming enthusiasts headed down to the harbour for an early morning dip. Whilst not advisable, it is certainly a once in a lifetime opportunity – one that I gladly did not join them on. At least he looks like he’s enjoying himself

Sunday 11 June

An even earlier rise, 6:00am, and we were off back to the airport for what was an all too soon flight home. Our two action packed days had flown by. We reluctantly boarded our flights and headed home, richer for the experience. Those on their debut tours had immersed themselves head first into the ALBCC ethos, and can no doubt expect re-selection.

The tour was a roaring success. Talk has quickly shifted from reminiscing about Iceland, to organising our next adventure. That success was guaranteed by excellent planning by the ALBCC Cabinet, and the enthusiasm everyone demonstrated to the further development of our beloved club.

We have come a long way in 6 years, but it is only the beginning.

More importantly, we are proud to have done so with the backing of Cricket Without Boundaries. In the lead up to our trip, Bloggers had been rounding up family, friends, colleagues, and cricket lovers to get some financial backing for a great cause. As a result of our tour raising awareness for the charity, we have been able to raise £3,550 (at last count). This money will make a huge difference – we are very grateful to all those who have shown generosity.

If you wish to donate any money, please contact Fergus Maclehose who will point you in the right direction. Check out the CWB site here.

Allez tout droit. Allez Les Bloggers.

 

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