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Page last updated at 07:01 GMT, Saturday, 31 July 2010 08:01 UK
Cricket: From Lord's to Lod

Stanley Perlman, chairman of the Israel Cricket Association
Stanley Perlman was out trying to hit a six in the first over

Israel is not a nation known for its cricket. But as Bob Walker discovered, there are some in the country who take the sport very seriously indeed.

At first I couldn't believe my ears - which was just as well. "We've got a game at Lord's tomorrow if you want to come and meet us," said the South African accent on the other end of the phone.

"Lord's?"

"No, Lod! It's near Tel Aviv. It's going to get up to 40 degrees but we'll have a good time."

Grammatically, it may only be separated by just two consonants, but Lod is a million light years away from the home of cricket.

As I arrive the next day Dovi Myers, a former Israel international - has just skipped down the pitch's artificial turf and smashed a six into the wasteland at the edge of the field.

"He's just hit the ball into the snake pit," guffaws Stanley Perlman, the South African-toned chairman of the Israel Cricket Association.

"There could be a couple of snakes there, the guy who was supposed to cut the long grass didn't do it very well."

Lod cricket ground
Lod cricket ground, not easily confused with Lords once you are there

Mr Perlman is not your average cricket administrator. There aren't that many chairmen, for example, who dislike using mobile telephones. And at the age of "50 something" he's still playing in the second tier of Israeli club cricket.

There also can't be many chairmen prepared to take a gentle ribbing from team mates who make "talk talk" motions with their hands as Stanley waxes lyrical about the game and its development in Israel.

He has an ambition to create a grass pitch in the south of the country where youngsters taking up the game are playing on an artificial wicket surrounded by sand.

"After five overs the ball just becomes a piece of rag," he says.

As the game continues, one of the Lod fielders inexplicably leaps into the air and lies prostrate as he chases a ball to the boundary.

"You see there's never a dull moment in Israeli cricket!"

Not dull but perhaps not the highest quality either. The Israelis had to introduce their own rule on wides because so many were being bowled that the games went on for hours.

In Israel a wide is worth two runs - but there is no extra delivery to compensate.

Development

Despite the banter and the by-laws, they still take the game seriously. There's a real desire to spread the word.

Many developing cricket nations like Israel face an uphill task in tackling the dominance of other sports.

But figures just released by the ICC suggests they are making inroads.

Israeli cricketters shelter from the sun
Ties are not necessary in the club house

In 2009 there was an 17% increase in the number of people playing the game outside the traditional test-playing countries. The target by the end of the year is to reach 600,000.

Israel is a country where the number of adult players can be counted in hundreds rather than thousands. A nation with just a handful of grass pitches and a society where football and basketball dominate.

It lies outside the 50 ranked one-day international nations, but in the European Division Two tournament held in Guernsey this year they managed to beat both the hosts and the group runners-up, Germany.

And that was without two of their players, who declined to play on the Sabbath for religious reasons.

Unlike some other developing nations, Israel has a respectable proportion of home-grown players rather than imported players from the more recognised cricketing countries.

And they're trying to target children who live in the poorer parts of the country. One programme working with Bedouin children has won a Cricket Without Borders award from The International Cricket Council.

Standing in as umpire for the Lod/Tel Aviv clash is Steven Shein, an Israel international and one of those who played in the Guernsey tournament. He's also been closely involved in the youth programme.

He acknowledges that cricket in Israel faces a number of challenges.

"But having said that, every child - every child - we introduced to the game at school… just absolutely loved it," he says.


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