Bahrain Rugby Football Club’s (BRFC) newly-formed Red Crickets team celebrated the special history between Bahrain and the Darjeeling Cricket Club by participating in its 50th anniversary festival in Dubai.
The UAE club was founded in 1969 after two British expats - Rupert Mquigan and Robin Blackburn - arrived with BD56 worth of cricket kit provided on loan by a sports store in Bahrain.
They came to know of a ground in Sharjah, created almost certainly by the RAF who had a base there at the time. With British companies such as Halcrow, Costain and BT, amongst others, operating in the region, a team was formed to play against a combined Indian and Pakistani team.
According to Alan Cooke, who was one of the first players to participate, it was after a few games that it was announced that the club had raised sufficient funds to repay the Darjeeling Trading Company in Bahrain and the players decided that the club should forthwith be named ‘Darjeeling Cricket Club’ in honour of the trusting store.
Historically, the original shop in Manama Souq belonged to the Sarwani family from Pakistan who settled in the country in the 1940s and are believed to be the first and oldest store providing sports equipment in the kingdom.
Starting the Sixes tournament in the first match against favourites Darjeeling A was hardly ideal although the Red Crickets were full of good spirits.
The ex-professionals dispatched the Bahrain bowlers to all parts of the neighbouring roof in reaching a total of 90. Only the captain, Cobus Grierson, made any headway towards an unlikely chase, while Vermeulen almost managed to take a stunning catch, only for momentum to carry him over the ropes a short distance.
Next up was a visiting team from the UK, The Posh Toms. Despite frequently being mistaken as twins, the father and son pairing of John and Matty Rees opened the batting. Father, John, looking masterly as he sowed the seeds for victory with an undefeated knock while Matt’s wristy blows helped elevate the Crickets to 68.
The match turned in the second over of the Posh Tom’s reply as John Rees took two crucial wickets and the Man of the Match honours.
The emphatic nature of the victory meant that the Red Crickets had qualified for the main cup knockout and were due to face another vaunted home team.
As any budding naturalist would know, crickets are mainly nocturnal and this game under lights had them clicking their heels in anticipation.
Unfortunately the gruelling nature of Sixes festival cricket meant several players barely had the energy to stand.
The early chirping was quickly drowned out by that of the opposition keeper, delighted at the regular fall of wickets. At 20-5 off 4.1 overs Bahrain were returning to the clubhouse until being informed of a “last man stands” rule that allowed Axtell to add 16 from the remaining five deliveries. The total always looked too low meaning Bahrain was eliminated into the Bowl semi-final.
In a twist of fate this meant a re-run of the match against the Posh Toms although they featured a number of new faces meaning victory could not be expected.
After his knock the night before Axtell was asked to open the batting with Forward drawing the short straw.
Adopting different approaches to batting the two passed 50 in the third over before Forward, by now batting on his knees, missed a straight one, allowing fresher batsmen to pummel the attack.
In reply the key over was delivered by Jimmy McCallum who proved his “Meistery” of the slower ball to “bomb” out the opposition captain, rendering the two wickets secured by Axtell in the final over largely superfluous, given the victory had been easily secured.
Barring their way in the Bowl final was another Darjeeling team, the Chokers.
The South Africans batted first and made steady progress ultimately reaching 63 from their five overs with Matt Rees taking the only wicket.
With Forward taking two steps backwards when asked if he would open again with Axtell, skipper Grierson took on the task.
Scoring at a similar rate with the former finding the gaps in the field skipper Grierson chose to blast it over them with one six clearing the scoreboard on the far hill.
Having reached 58 from 3.4 overs Axtell, perhaps heeding his partners request to adopt a more direct approach, holed out to long-off.
With a single scored off the final ball, the Red Crickets were still confident with only seven required from the final over.
Unfortunately the skipper was bowled on the first ball and Rees and McCallum were unable to put bat on ball and Bahrain lost by three runs leaving Barend Vermeulen, as next batsman, wondering what more he could have done.
As a result of the experience, Bahrain will be hoping to welcome a number of the teams for reciprocal matches.