Cricket in Austria? ‘Owzat!’

The Austrian Cricket Association Boasts 14 domestic Teams and One in Nearby Slovenia

Colin Leigh Peters | May 2007

This cricket cry is no doubt unfamiliar to the average Austrian, and even to the average Vienna ex-pat. However, it’s not as unfamiliar as you may think.

The Cricket World Cup may now be over, with Australia deservedly returning home with the trophy, but the Austrian cricket season – that’s right, the Austrian cricket season – is just about to start.

For knowledgeable Cricket fans, this can be a time of trial. For while hanging about in any of the bars showing the International Cricket Council (ICC) World Cup over the last six weeks, they’ve been plagued with two questions: ‘Do you understand what they’re doing?’ followed immediately by ‘… and do you really find it interesting?’

Cricket’s impenetrable scoring system, plus its undeniably slow pace, make it hard for the uninitiated to comprehend.

How can anyone just sit there, watch an entire game, and enjoy it? This however belies the fact that the sport itself is actually one of the world’s most popular: Cricket audiences in England top those of football during the ‘Ashes’ tournament, and cricket is the number one spectator sport among the billion plus inhabitants of the Indian Subcontinent.

The record number of teams competing at this year’s World Cup is another indicator of the sport’s growing fan base.

Therefore it shouldn’t be so surprising to learn that Austria is also home to its own cricket scene.

The Austrian Cricket Association’s (ACA) website boasts links to no less than nine of the fourteen domestic teams that participate in the league, plus one team from neighboring Slovenia. Clubs such as Austria Cricket Club Wien (ACC) offer not only men the chance to grab a bat and ‘step up to the crease,’ but women and children too, through ladies and youth teams.

Vienna also has its own immaculate cricket ground, perched high up in the 22nd District on Markomannenstrasse, where many a summer day and evening have been whiled away in the ‘slips.’

Cricket actually had a presence in Austria over a century ago. It was played here as early as 1892, when teams like the Vienna Cricket and Football Club (VCFC), for example, played cricket alongside football and track and field. VCFC later concentrated on soccer when cricket interest waned, and went on to become Fussballklub Austria Wien, the top-flight football team of today.

It’s at Markomanngasse where the majority of Austrian tournaments and matches take place. For example, July 2006 saw the fourth Viennese World Cup, where players of different nationalities joined in a whittled down version of the real thing.

The two finalists in the tournament were the Euro-Sri Lankans (who made the journey all the way from Holland to participate) and Pakistan. Sri Lanka won the coin toss and chose to bat first.

Despite scoring a record 127 runs in their innings, their tiredness after the long journey meant they were pushed to the limit by the Pakistani batsmen, who won the tournament in a last ball thriller.

It was two great days of entertainment, parties, barbeques, strawberries & cream and good play.

"Cricket can bring harmony among people of all cultures, while promoting cricket among a new generation in Austria,’ said Thairindu Perera, an ACC associate reporting on the tournament. And it’s true that cricket in Austria plays more than just a sporting role.

The multi-cultural nature of the Austrian cricket scene is reflected in the ACC motto ‘United Smiles of Austria’, and the importance of this multiculturalism was highlighted in a conversation with Brian Lewis, president of the United Nations Cricket Club, who described the league’s participants as a real ‘mixed bag.’

"There are Indian teams, Sri Lankan teams, Pakistani teams, Aussies, Brits, South Africans, Americans … we’ve got them all," he said. In addition, the ICC helps to fund the development of the sport among the Austrian youth. Indeed, the development of the sport amongst youngsters was integral in the development of cricket here in general.

Lewis recounts the humble revival of modern cricket in Austria just over thirty years ago, when an Australian English teacher decided to train curious young Austrians in the sport. At that time, trying to get even the simplest things organised proved extremely different.

"We were looking around for somewhere suitable to play a game of cricket, but every sports organisation we contacted just kept showing us football pitches," chuckled Lewis. "They just couldn’t understand the difference!"

Perseverance and love for the game have paid off, as the sport has been gaining followers. The ACA was founded in 1981, and today, Austria even has an international side that competes regularly at European level.

The rising number of newcomers to the sport is no doubt partly due to the open and relaxed attitude that promoters such as Lewis have towards those who would like to give it a try. "Just drop by if you feel like playing," he said. The ACA website also offers plenty of contact detai ls for those tempted to have a go.

But to return to our opening enigma, "Owzat!" is the traditional cry that a bowler makes to the umpire upon toppling the bails on the wicket guarded by the opposing batsman. Still don’t get it? Don’t worry, you’ll learn, as perhaps Austria will also be represented at the next Cricket World Cup staged in the balmy Bahamas!

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