Cricket in the small Balkan republic of Montenegro took another big step forward last week, as the fledgling Porto Montenegro Cricket Club played two matches against a visiting team from England. The games were played at PMCC’s ground, a football pitch in the town of Budva on the Adriatic Sea – and both went down to the last over, with the hosts twice taking victory.
The English team was put together by Norman Dugdale, who called upon team-mates at London’s Turnham Green & Polytechnic CC and the wandering side Incogniti to finish their seasons in the former Yugoslavia. Just like a professional tour, there were as many members of support staff in the touring party as there were cricketers: only six players could be persuaded to make the trip, but they brought with them a chef, a dietician, a driver, a logistics manager, a scorer and a social media officer. That Norman took on all these roles himself meant that there was plenty of room in the team hotel – his house in the village of Perast, an hour’s drive along the coast from Budva.
Most of the Montenegrin team are expat Brits and Australians, working at the Porto Montenegro luxury marina in the Bay of Kotor. Since getting together last summer to play their first ever match, against a travelling village side from Wales, they have set up two plush cricket nets behind their yacht club in Tivat, travelled to Croatia for a tournament, and bought a plastic roll-out pitch to put in the middle of the soccer field. The PMCC talisman remains Saša Ilić, the former Charlton Athletic, West Ham United and Yugoslavia goalkeeper, who nowadays runs a health retreat in Perast.
At the toss before Saturday’s 35-over match, the Porto Montenegro captain Ian Giddings used his knowledge of the Budva wicket to his advantage: when a salamander falls out of the pitch as it is unrolled onto the square, it’s usually a good day to bat. Asked to field first under a hot sun, the English visitors struggled to adapt to playing in Balkan conditions: at the drinks break the Dugdale IX (now propped up by three fielders from the marina) found that their cups were filled not with orange squash, but with potent Montenegrin rakija.
Porto Montenegro finished their innings on 201-6, guided by 28 from Oliver Corlette, 42 from Ian Giddings, 43* from David Sawney and 31* from Nathan Puttock – whose knock included three flat sixes that almost landed on Jaz beach next to the ground. The wickets were shared among the spinners: two each for Naveed Malik and Steve King, and one for Norman Dugdale.
The visitors made a bad start in chasing Porto Montenegro’s score, with batsmen coming in and out like cruise liners in Kotor harbour. Frank Moore bowled an excellent spell of off-spin for the hosts. Eventually Michael Redfern kept the yachtsmen at bay – steadying the ship, navigating the middle overs, anchoring the innings… – before falling to a cutter for 45. Naveed Malik then motored to 72 – batting without pads on – but the tourists could only reach 186. Naveed was presented with the man-of-the-match award as the two teams had dinner together at a restaurant in the marina.
(PMCC player Tony Browne filmed the game from the air using a flying ‘drone’ camera. The result is a fantastic highlights video).
After sleeping off a night of Nikšić beers and burek pasties, the teams met again on the Sunday morning for a Twenty20 game. This time the English tourists batted first, with the Incogniti duo of Dugdale (52* opening the batting) and King (36*) doing the bulk of the scoring. Seamers Puttock (4-21) and Tony Browne (1-37) took the wickets for Porto Montenegro, who were set 139 to claim a second win.
They did so with just a few deliveries to spare. Nathan Puttock made another boundary-laden 29 in the middle order, before a partnership between David Sawney (31*) and Ian Giddings (38) saw them most of the way home. Jonathan Campion took five wickets in his spell for the tourists – although many of his deliveries landed closer to the beach than the stumps (not just buffet bowling, but buffet bowling with Montenegrin portions). Paul Furness added to an athletic stumping the previous day with two catches behind the wicket, the second, to dismiss the PMCC captain, a screamer diving to his right.
As Tim Layton hit the winning runs, the youth squad of Lovćen Cetinje football club arrived at the boundary to shoo the cricketers off their training pitch. After the end-of-tour speeches, an early Tea was taken on Jaz beach.
The weekend’s matches included players from eight countries. For some, Porto Montenegro CC is the first chance to play cricket since moving abroad; others, like their newest Montenegrin player, were picking up a bat for the very first time. And there is hope that these late-summer matches in Budva will become an annual fixture. It is a stunning place to play cricket, and wonderful people to play cricket with.
More posts about cricket in Europe: