Junior cricket in Switzerland has its origins in several places. In Geneva and in Zurich, almost simultaneously, two clubs began to form in 2004.
However, seventy years previous to this cricket had been introduced at the Lyceum Alpinum in Zuoz. Nurturing these forces and unearthing just some of the dormant talent in Switzerland has been the task of the past eight years.
It was an almost fairytale start with centres emerging rapidly in Zurich, Geneva and then Basel, matches played at Under 11 and Under 15 levels, an indoor tournament, cricket camps with the Pakistani Customs Cricket Academy and test player Jalalludin, cricket introductions at several schools, the first of many ECB coaching courses, the first invites to play in other countries – Germany and Austria – and the formation of national junior teams.
In addition, ICC Europe almost unexpectedly presented Switzerland’s Youth Development with two annual awards: a photo which captures the essence of cricket development in action was named European Photo of the Year, and European Volunteer of the Year.
This was all the more remarkable because already in 2004 we had picked up the ICC Junior Development Initiative Award for our youth cricket development programme. For the second time, in 2008, at the ICC Development Program Regional Awards Switzerland won Photo of the Year.
Already, at a very early stage, ICC was flatteringly calling us one of the most pro-active European countries in youth cricket.
Numbers of junior cricketers aged between 7-17 years swelled to about 250 in 2006. This included some girls who were integrated into existing teams. At the same time the first Under 13 and Under 9 teams emerged.
Fifteen-year old Peter Crook, who captained Geneva Region Youth CC and who had started playing adult cricket with Cern CC, proved to be the perfect representative for Switzerland at the ECC School of Excellence at La Manga, Spain.
He was one of the 23 top young cricketers from around Europe who were able to benefit from an intensive and high-level course. He was accompanied by Geneva Region Youth coach Michael George, the initiator of junior cricket in the Geneva area. Swiss youth cricket was rapidly making a name for its rising standards following the performances on the course of Marcus Gurtner in 2005. The target to have two youth representatives selected in 2007 was then achieved, a situation which continued until 2010.
In the meantime, fathers of players were stepping forward, together with some senior club members, keen to help out with coaching activities. To date more than ten Level 1 and 2 courses have taken place, producing qualified coaches capable of pushing this sport forward. It is a tribute to the dedication of these coaches that two of them, Geneva Region Youth CC’s Michael George and Zurich Cricket CC’s Ivo Favotto, in this short space of time have been awarded ECB Europe's Sky Sports Outstanding Coach Award, an annual award, and there is no doubt that several more would have made very deserving candidates.
June 2006 saw the start of a fruitful partnership with Zuoz’s world-renowned Lyceum Alpinum. With their four pitches at an altitude of 1800m in spectacular snow-capped surroundings, this was the perfect place to stage a cricket tournament. Under 15 teams from Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Zuoz competed for the ‘senior’ trophy while Under 11 teams from Munich, Zurich, Basle and Geneva met to challenge for the ‘junior’ one. Since then this tournament has gone from strength to strength and there are now so many Swiss club teams wanting to compete that it has become a purely national cup event for all age groups. At the 2012 Zuoz junior tournament seventeen teams took part.
2007 witnessed national teams successfully travelling abroad to Germany, Austria and Denmark. The incentive to be selected for a national team has been an important one over the years, especially for the players desiring to attain similar levels achieved by their contemporaries in the ‘cricketing countries’. Tours have long since become a fixed part of the calendar with teams, whether Under 11, 13, 14, 15 or 17 travelling to many parts of Europe: England, Denmark, Germany, Austria, Cyprus, and Italy. (Photo: Swiss Under 11 XI wins Vienna Challenge Cup) (Photo: Swiss Under 15 XI Denmark tour 2012)
It was estimated that the number of junior players doubled in 2007 from 168 to 365 boys and girls. This trend continued in 2008 with the establishment of the new junior clubs in Cossonay and Gingins. It was new that two coaching courses could be run, and by the end of the year there were 26 Level I and 12 Level II coaches. A Cricket Coaches Association of Switzerland (CCAS) was formed by the junior clubs in June to coordinate activities. These numbers have continued to rise, with a total of 46 coaches in 2009, increasing to over 75 in 2012.
Switzerlandwas then invited to participate at the 2008 European Under 17 Championships hosted by Germany in August. Although this was a Division 2 tournament, Switzerland finished higher placed than both Germany and Greece.
Standards had continued to rise and this was evident from our successes against international opposition at all levels. A competitive Swiss Colts team, drawing players from a national pool of 16-19 year-olds, was then entered in the Swiss senior league for the first time in 2009. As the ability to compete on a high level continued, it was clear that Switzerland desperately wanted to participate in the 2009 Under 15 European Championship tournament, hosted by Italy in Bologna. Switzerland justified their selection among the eight countries by finishing higher placed than both Gibraltar and Israel, and came close to beating both Germany and France. Switzerland was awarded the prestigious Spirit of Cricket Award. (Photo: ICC Spirit of Cricket Award 2009)
In 2010 Switzerland participated for the second time at the Under 17 Division 2 European Championships, this time hosted by the Isle of Man. Switzerland took 5th place among the ten countries participating, finishing ahead of Belgium, Germany, Hellas, Gibraltar, and Austria. One Swiss player, Midhun Lal was the second most valuable player at the tournament while several Swiss bowlers finished with particularly impressive figures.
By this time so many young players were being attracted to the game that greater opportunities had emerged to play both competitive and friendly matches on a very regular basis. In 2010 due to this surge of interest three cricket camps were organised, with overseas coaches, supported by local coaches, running 2- or 3-day camps – two in the west and one in the east of Switzerland. These camps were so well attended that they became a regular feature of junior club fixture calendars. To date they have been run with the help of Lancashire CCC and Geneva Region Youth CC, Hampshire CCC and Zurich Crickets CC, Cricket Victoria and Gingins CC, Twenty20 Academy and Basel Dragons CC, and MPSports Academy and Gingins CC.
Summer fixtures and training are now almost everywhere among the junior clubs supplemented by a full indoor programme throughout the winter months. Clubs have managed to secure large indoor facilities and this has enabled our players to make significant progress in honing their skills, maintaining fitness, building their tactical awareness and enjoying match conditions at the various tournaments that now take place around the country at all junior levels, whether at Geneva’s Gingins CC or Collège du Léman, the Basel Dragons CC tournament in the new year, or the Zurich Crickets CC events. Recent visitors to these indoor tournaments have included Luxembourg, Denmark, and Italian teams.
At the 2012 international Taverners Tournament in La Manga four former junior players were part of the Swiss national team. These players have come through the ranks of the junior teams and their selection to this level is justified. For some years Bob Barber presented annual awards to the best Swiss junior. These awards are now presented to the best U11, U13; U15, U17 and U19 players. Why Bob Barber? Bob Barber played 28 Test matches for England. He was named as one of the five Wisden Cricketers of the Year in 1967. A hard hitting batsman he is perhaps best remembered for an innings of 185 against Australia on the 1965-66 tour. Barber was also a big-turning leg-spinner who averaged one and a half wickets per Test with his 42 victims. After retiring from the limelight of the cricket field Bob Barber settled in the east of Switzerland. For some years he has actively supported junior cricket. Such support is invaluable.
Today there are eight junior clubs in Switzerland providing over 550 players with the opportunities to learn and play cricket at every level. A number of the older players have progressed into the senior clubs or have moved into adult cricket via the Colts team. All the work being done in these junior clubs is voluntary, and despite the many obstacles encountered by a young and emerging sport, junior cricket has continued to thrive. Efforts have been made to find sponsors to help finance the national teams and tournaments and Junior Development is grateful for these generous donations which make so much more possible. A great many people put in hours and hours of work for this sport week in week out.
Junior cricket in Switzerland is in good hands.
Patrick Henderson was the SCA's Youth Development Officer from 2004-2012.