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Cricket in the Middle East – 1958

Cricket in the Middle East – 1958

If you are used to the billiard table smooth pitches of the United Kingdom then you might find some of the pitches in the Middle East to be somewhat makeshift, or they were in 1958. If you were lucky you might find a patch of grass big enough, but that was the exception rather than the rule. Let us look at the options we had. Football, being more universally played than cricket, there were pitches just about everywhere that could be used at a pinch, but our usual playing surface in Malta was the parade ground. A strip of coir matting was laid out and nailed into the tarmac. Only two drawbacks to this surface were the amount of gravel lying about which would tear up unwary knees, if you dived to save a boundary, and any visiting helicopter was inclined to blow the ‘pitch’ into the Sergeants’ Mess.

Our 1958 season started while we were still in Cyprus and it was decided to have a 40 Commando Unit Trial up in the hills near Platres. This was one of the football pitch pitches that we used. Having caught out the 2 i/c off his second ball he suggested that I take over the captaincy. I was aided and abetted by a fellow team member, and regular officer, from my old school, who had not only been posted to the same unit but had joined the same troop as me. On that occasion as we had not taken any cricket gear with us to Cyprus, being there for Internal Security duties and not sport, we had to borrow what we could from neighbouring army units and wore our khaki shorts for want of whites.

We got back to Malta at the end of our tour in Cyprus to find the season getting under way. There was a competition between all units on the Island which we joined in. We managed to fit in all the games required of us in between rigourus training for various military exercises and competitions. There was also a visit to North Africa with amphibious landings in support of King Idris to contend with. Another constant problem was making sure team members were not on other duties that interfered with team duties. Constant juggling was required, unlike at home on the village green where you could rely on your whole team being available.

Somehow we seemed to be winning every match and the Colonel had threatened to postpone the date of my return to England so that I could be in Malta for the rest of the season. We still had one match to play to win the cup when I left and I never found out for about twenty years that we had won after all.