On Friday the 8th of June the first ever Swiss T20 national team embarked on their trip to Vienna in Austria to play three games against our friendly neighbour the Austrian National cricket team.
The 12 players, selected from the length and breadth of Switzerland after extensive research by the chief selector Mr. Abraham Koshy, comprised of some very young and some not so very young players, was led by the very able Mr. Sajid Safiat Ullah from Power Winterthur.
The team left Switzerland with mixed feelings and expectations. The players were excited, but they knew that they had important goals to achieve. After a 10 hour drive across Austria the team reached their destination and every one was relieved to get the keys of their rooms. The evening finished with a team dinner which every one enjoyed as they also spent time in getting to know each other.
On Saturday the team gathered early for breakfast and they looked fantastic in their Swiss coloured red kits. The coach and the captain had a long team meeting with the players and the team landed at the beautiful Austrian cricket association’s ground in Seebarn where the prospect of a match looked in doubt as dark clouds hovered in the sky.
But both teams were keen to play so the match started on schedule. Switzerland lost the toss and the opponents elected to bat first.
The team was aware of the strength of the Austrians who has been training for the past 12 months with a professional ICC coach to prepare for their ICC WC qualifier tournament in Spain on 18th June.
Berne CC's Usman started the opening over, immediately hitting the spot. But the ball was rearing up and it was evident that this wicket was a lot different then the slow Swiss wickets. Ali Saleem of Geneva XI Stars CC , the youngest team member of the squad, was given the responsibility to share the new ball and he did not disappoint. The confidence evident from his captain was rewarded with an edge of the left handed opener who was caught by Farhan Shaukat (Berne CC) at second slip.
Usman took Austria's 2nd wicket in the following over leaving Austria 2 for 2 but then the Austrians pulled the shutters down and started playing defensive, building a solid partnership that eventually started to open up.
The captain then tried all the tricks in his armoury. First the leg spin of Farhan followed by the off spin of Shahzad of Royal Zurich CC. Then came the slinging bowling action of Muralitharan of Olten CC (immediately nicknamed as Malinga by the opposition), but it was the captain himself who broke the partnetship. Afzaal Sikandar of Olten CC also took a wicket soon after but the the Austrians finally finished on 262 for 4 at the conclusion of their rain reduced quota of 46 overs.
The Swiss team begantheir reply in the knowledge that the target was within their reach given the ability of the squad.
The captain Sajid and vice-captain Sathya Narayanan of Cossonay CC opened the innings but the dismissal of the captain to a stunning caught & bowled was a blow to the team. Sathya was holding up his end well, but wickets continued to fall at the other. Farhan, Uzman & Rana Khaliq of Power Winterthur CC were dismissed without scoring, strugging to cope with the bounce of the wicket and distance to the boundary.
Some hope came in the form of a partnership when Shahnawaz of Power CC hit the Austrian spinner for 14 runs in one over. But his departure triggered a midle order collapse, and with Sathya's departure also went the chance of a fight-back by the Swiss team.
Sudath Jayararathne of Zug CC and Ali Saleem put up a good stand, frustrating the Austrians with their solid defence. But eventually Sudath was beaten for pace and the innings came to close with the Swiss side losing by more than 100 runs.
The team could have restricted the Austrians to a much lower score but a rain affected season in Switzerland had limited the tour party from playing much cricket. The exhausting trip to Vienna a day before also took it's toll on some players and the super fit Austrians took full advantage of that, converting one run into twos and twos into threes.
The coach had an extensive chat with the players at the end of the match and everyone was determined to do well on Sunday. They knew that they are capable players but was beaten by a super fit and well trained Austrian side.
Sunday the team woke up to pouring rain and everyone thought that the ghost of weekend rain had following the Swiss cricketers. But as the team reached the ground the sky started to clear and the first of two scheduled T20 matches started with a slight delay.
On this occasion the captain called the toss correctly and decided to bat. Both Sajid and Sathya opened the innings again but Sajid departed early once again as he skied an attempted pull and was well caught by the keeper. That did not help the cause and again most of the players succumbed to the bounce of the wicket. Although they had wickets in hand at the end of the innings, runs had been hard to come by. The team accelerated towards the end of their innings with Claston d’ Mello of Cern CC playing well but could only reach 91 runs at the end of their 20 overs. Sathya batted through the innings scored 43 runs and once again starred with the bat.
The "Aussies" started their reply as if they are in a hurry to finish the match and eventually got the target for the loss of 5 wickets.
The team was more determined in the 3rd match and batted and bowled brilliantly though eventually losing by a margin of 15 runs.
At the end of the matches the visitors thanked their hosts their excellent hospitality and wished them well for their forthcoming ICC tournament and a souvenir was presented to the coach and manager of the Austrian team.
Though no matches were won by the team, as a result Switzerland slipping to 72 in the ICC world rankings, the discipline was exemplary and all the players gelled very well. Most of the players were playing for the first time for the national team. The exposure that the SwissT20 association has provided them was invaluable and all pledged their full support for the training sessions that the association plans to organize before their next Swiss T20 assignment, a tour to the north west of England in the last week of August.
The Swiss T20 association thanks Mr. Alex Mackay from swissFOCUS who stepped in at the last minute after Clive Denny had been forced to pull out through injury and to Mr. Saleem Awan for organizing the tour.
The 2012 Swiss T20 national squad and match officials at Vienna, Austria (9.-10.6.2012)
Top (l-r): S.Awan, A.Mackay, S.Jayararathne, C.d’ Mello, F.Shaukat, A.Koshy, S.S.Ali, A.Saleem, K.G.Muralitharan, N.Thind
Bottom (l-r): S.Narayanan+, R.A.Khaliq, S.Safiat*, A.Sikandar, S.Mohammed, U.A.Sheik