The Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack 2021 includes a piece that I wrote for its Cricket Round The World section, about how the game is becoming known in two far-flung corners of Russia.
Being a lifelong cricket fan, I’m thrilled that my article (on page 815) is in such exalted company. Following the Notes by the Editor Lawrence Booth, the 2021 Wisden features essays by Gideon Haigh, Tanya Aldred, Matthew Engel, Emma John and James Anderson.
As well as the piece from Russia, Cricket Round The World this year includes stories about matches in Brazil, Finnish Åland, Macau, Singapore, Sweden, Tunisia and Yemen. It’s my second contribution to “the most famous sports book in the world”: in 2014 I wrote about the first ever cricket tournament to be held in Uzbekistan.
I’m very grateful to the president of Cricket Russia, Ashwani Chopra, for his time while I was researching the article, and wish all cricketers in Russia the best of luck in 2021 and beyond.
From the cutting room floor:
The game received a boost in 2020, when cricket was recognised as a sport by the country’s ministry of sport. The decision to give cricket official status means that its governing body, Cricket Russia, can now apply for government support. It will also help to introduce cricket lessons at a greater number of schools – one of the breakthroughs that Cricket Russia’s president Ashwani Chopra has made in his eight years at the helm, assisted by Elena Sukhotina, an English teacher, and Sergey Kurchenko, originally a baseball coach. Chopra’s vision is to increase awareness of cricket among Russians, and stock clubs with local players. This is already beginning to happen: the left-handers Sasha Vasiliev, a wicketkeeper, and all-rounder Sasha Bogatyrev are mainstays of the domestic cricket scene.
Although no tournaments were possible in 2020, plenty of informal cricket was played. These were mainly 30-over club matches at Moscow’s Iskra stadium, but 3,000km to the east, South Asian medical students also managed to put on some games in the mountainous Siberian region of Altai. Russian cricket has another unlikely outground in the small town of Bataysk. That there are hundreds of players in the Cossack heartlands is thanks to one man. Konstantin Kiziavka started playing “kriket” with his family after discovering it by accident: he originally wanted to learn about “kroket” (croquet). He now organises tennis ball cricket matches for Russian boys and girls on a school playground.
The game in Russia is still vulnerable – a fact not lost on the Moscow clubs who lost their pitch at Karacharovo when the local authorities took it back. Money is badly needed, but there is no guarantee that recognition from the sports ministry will lead to any funding. Nevertheless, in 2021 Chopra plans to buy a new ground, and take the Moscow Foxes – the reigning Russian champions – to the European Cricket League in La Manga, where the St. Petersburg Lions made a respectable debut in 2019. Chopra hopes to see his Moscow-born son Yash bat for Russia at the Olympics one day: “The Olympics are the only way to convert cricket from a Commonwealth sport to a game that is known globally”.