Look out Pavel Florin: the English are coming. The England and Wales Cricket Board has granted permission for Swardeston Cricket Club to become the first English Twenty20 club champions to play in the European Cricket League this year.
The ECL is the self-styled Champions League of cricket, designed to grow the game around Europe in a huge and largely untapped market.
Its first edition was televised in 140 countries earlier this year. It went viral briefly when Florin of the Romanian Twenty20 champions Cluj was captured bowling some of the most unorthodox right-arm-slow lobs ever captured on camera, attracting in the process a degree of cult celebrity.
Florin has since become a familiar face in Australia, appearing on television alongside Brian Lara and Jeff Thomson, and playing a few games for Surrey Hills Cricket Club in Melbourne.
Either side of Florin’s burst of fame the competition brought a high standard of club cricket, and a first ever televised meeting of European club teams away from the ICC circuit.
The ECB’s backing coincides with the spread of the tournament from eight champion teams to 16 over an eight-day T10 competition. There is also talk of a significant TV deal in the offing. For the players of Swardeston, and indeed for every other English and Welsh club now given the chance to compete in Europe, it presents a genuinely intriguing opportunity.
“ECB are delighted that Swardeston Cricket Club from the East Anglian Premier League have been invited to participate in the expanded European Cricket League for 2020,” said Paul Bedford, the ECB national participation manager.
“Swardeston have enjoyed recent success in ECB National Club Competitions in both 40 overs and T20 formats of the game. We will watch with fascination to see how they get on.”
At a time when cricket needs more than ever to spread its footprint, the ECB’s backing for a low-cost new presence in the calendar will be welcomed by many, not least the players and supporters of Swardeston CC, who have been a giant of club cricket in recent years under the captaincy of Joe Gatting, nephew of Mike.
The Norfolk club became the first English team to win the domestic double last summer, a feat sealed with victory against Toft CC in the England T20 club finals day under the lights at Derby. Toft had in turn snatched a dramatic last-ball victory over Sheffield Collegiate CC, alma mater of Joe Root and Michael Vaughan, en route to the final.
“2019 was an incredible season for our club,” said the Swardeston chairman, Stuart Bartram. “Over the last 10 years we have achieved a great record in the ECB’s national competitions. We are thrilled to be invited to take our chance on the international stage and meet the best of Europe at ECL20.”
The challenge from here will be to haul in VOC Rotterdam, the current kings of European T10 club cricket. For the organisers, and indeed for the ECB’s participation arm, there will be hope of further broadcast deals to spread this form of the game a little further. The second ECL will take place between 31 May and 7 June at La Manga in Spain.