29 March 2013

Interview: Brian Mantle, General Manager Of Cricket Germany

Brian Mantle speaks at the German School Championships 2011.
On the right the President of Cricket Germany, Brian Fell, and women's
officer and national player Monika Loveday (photo: Brian Mantle)
Dear friends. I am presenting to you the most epic thing I've ever done on this blog. Brian Mantle, the General Manager of the German Cricket Federation, answered basically all questions my crumb-sized brain could come up with. Here we go:


Hello Brian, thanks for taking the time to answer my questions. In this interview we are going to discuss some fundamental questions regarding the status quo of German cricket and the progress of its development. 


No Germans in Germany?

Q: I've been following German cricket for a few years now and whenever someone asks me about the German cricket team I end up explaining to them why there are no German players in the side. The youth sides feature a lot of European faces or players of mixed background (born or grown up in Germany), why do these players not make the cut for the senior side? Can you pinpoint the reasons for this gap between homegrown youth and national senior setup, which is largely made up of immigrated seniors and expats? Do the German youth players, in comparison to the players that learnt their sport abroad, lack talent and skill, or are there any other reasons why they don't make it into the senior team?

BM: It has nothing at all to do with talent. The fact that there are no “Schmidts” and “Müllers” in the team reflects the current status of German cricket. The players in the national team either learnt their cricket in a traditional cricket playing country like India or Pakistan or they have grown up here in Germany in families and communities that follow cricket. Ten years, even five years ago, there were only small pockets of youth development in German cricket and this means that we have not had a large number of youngsters coming through to the highest level. The last two or three years has seen a slow change in culture amongst the German clubs and many of them take youth development very seriously these days. It will take time for these players to come through but I truly believe that in ten years or so we will see a German national team where half of the players came through the youth structures that the DCB is putting in place.


Q: Considering that local players are important in boosting the positive image of a sport, making it more attractive to the local audience, strengthening the team's identification with the country, and therefore improving the players' motivation, team morale and success rate, what do you think about a quota of home grown players in the national side?

BM: We can look at this from another perspective. The fact that German cricket is still multi-cultural is a big bonus for us and makes it attractive to Germans. German cricket is a wonderful story of people from different continents with different cultures, languages and religions all playing a global sport. That said, we can only truly call ourselves an integrative sport when there are more natural Germans playing the game. Again, this will take time but the first steps have already taken place.

I think a quota of home grown players would be a step back. It goes against what we believe in at the DCB – that race, religion and nationality play no role. Don’t forget though that there are ICC regulations that insist that players in the German national team have met “development criteria”, meaning that every player has played at least four years in the DCB Bundesliga. Many of the current team have been playing in Germany for years and some were born here and have German passports.

The German team on a local bus during the final edition of the European Div. 2, Guernsey, 2010 (photo: Ehsan Latif)

Q: Do you think it is hard for German players to break into an overwhelmingly Asian-dominated  environment?

BM: Not at all. There are plenty of examples of players from outside Asia playing cricket for Germany. A good example at the moment is André Leslie who originates from Australia and our national coach Keith Thompson who is Scottish. I really don’t think a person’s origins it is something that is thought about.


Q: The women's teams, as opposed to the men's teams, do almost solely comprise of non-Asian players, can you name a reason for that? Can men's cricket in Germany pick up some ideas from there about how to encourage the natives to join the sport?

BM: In contrast to the men’s team we have seen young female players progress through the ranks and make it into the national team. Of course there is much less competition as the playing numbers are much lower, this is the main reason why this has happened.

We are very proud of our women’s team and their achievements. I think the main lesson that the men can learn from our women’s team is their discipline and concentration – it is amazing to see how concentrated and disciplined they are when playing the game.


Cricket needs more TV coverage

Q: American Football is a purely imported and young sport as well, but compared to cricket it has grown quickly and considerably. Young people in big cities are familiar with the name of their local American Football team, but I am sure if you ask them about the biggest cricket club (and in many cities there are even several) they will shrug their shoulders, even though I dare claim that Germany has a lot less American immigrants than Asians. Why is it so hard for cricket to garner public attention?

BM: American Football is shown on German TV and has been for years. This, and the fact that Germany often looks towards the USA is a main reason why American sports are fashionable here. Cricket is rarely shown on free to air television and does not come from a country that is considered cool by the German youth. The way I would like to see things go can be compared to how snooker has developed in Germany. I am a big snooker fan and when I moved to Essen in 1996 I could only find one snooker table in the whole city. As soon as Eurosport started showing snooker, clubs started sprouting up all over the city and now almost every German knows what snooker is. Cricket has been shown on Eurosport 2, which is available to about 5% of German households. The typical viewing figures would be between 5000 and 10000. Last year they moved one game to the main Eurosport channel which everyone receives. It was viewed by 70000 people and I received about 50 mails from Germans wanting more information about cricket. That shows that getting cricket on German TV should be a big target, but it is very difficult to convince the TV channels.

In an amateur sport like cricket in Germany it can be hard to coordinate one's goals in life with the availability for selection.
National players André Leslie and Rajeev Vohra at the WCL Div. 7 in Botswana 2011 (photo: Ehsan Latif)

The importance of indoor cricket at schools

Q: A couple of years ago I read some news about the German indoor cricket teams being very competitive at the European level. Can you say something about that? Indoor cricket at schools seems to be one of the main pillars in the grassroots setup, in order to get German kids interested in the sport. How widespread is the sport at schools, and how many pupils keep playing it outside their PE classes or join outdoor cricket teams?

BM: It is true that German youth development has primarily grown up in the sports halls. Indoor cricket is fast and exciting and definitely appeals to young people. This year will see a big shift to outdoor cricket. It is hoped that all six regions will play their own regional youth leagues this year giving the kids regular practice at “real” cricket. In the north of Germany they will go one step further and have three age groups in three different leagues.

More and more schools are taking up cricket and some of them are producing real talents. Last year, the German under 19 wicket-keeper Giancarlo Schöcke came from the Lessing Gymnasium in Düsseldorf, showing how the system can work. I would estimate that we have between 30 and 40 schools in Germany who regularly play cricket, but there is room for much more.

The task now is to take these motivated and talented kids and give them the opportunity to play regularly and make the step up to senior cricket. This is a difficult task but it is the goal behind our “DCB Youth Retention Scheme”, our player pathway as well as the Street20 project that we are introducing over the whole of Germany.

The thought behind all of this is that we want to enthuse the youngsters so much that they see cricket as their main passion and want to stay with it for the rest of their lives.

Junior and senior players: Shakeel Hassan, Shafraz Samsudeen, Ehsan Latif (photo), André Leslie, Milan Fernando, Guernsey 2010

Q: How important is indoor cricket for outdoor players during the off-season?

BM: It keeps them fit, keeps them in contact with their team mates and means that they can hit the ground running when the season starts. I think everyone is aware though that indoor and outdoor cricket are two completely different games.


The Street20 Project

Q: The DCB [German Cricket Federation] has started the Street20 project this year. Please give us a short summary of its origin, nature, dimensions and the main goals, and tell us how it helps to spread the word amongst the native kids and present cricket as a sport that's fun to play.

BM: Street20 has its origins with the wonderful British charity “Cricket For Change” who took cricket into the inner cities in the UK as a way of reducing social problems. They have been very successful and I saw a few fantastic projects when I visited them in London a few weeks ago.

Street20 is perfect for Germany because it takes away some of the barriers that exist if kids want to play cricket. It can take place anywhere so we don’t need pitches. There is no expensive equipment to buy, just stumps, balls and a bat. It also solves the time issue as a game only lasts twenty minutes.

It also fills a big gap in our player pathway between Kwik Cricket for beginners and proper hard-ball cricket. It will offer the players regular competition and because the tape ball reacts in a similar way to a real cricket ball, it will enable that step up to take place.

It is our hope to roll this out in 2013 in as many cities as possible and to reach more and more young people.

A warm-up match in Coventry, ahead of the European Div. 2, 2010. Fast bowlers Ehsan Latif and Rana-Javed Iqbal (photo: DCB).

Structural development and domestic setup

Q: In the field of umpiring and scoring courses are offered regularly. How does the coaching situation look?

BM: We have also offered coaches courses in all regions over the last two years and many of these coaches are now directly involved in youth development. This will continue and we play to hold more courses throughout the year. A course will take place in Hessen in April for example.


Q: The new league structures for domestic cricket, which will be in place from 2014 on, are supposed to boost local development and competition between the clubs, since only the top clubs will keep playing at the first division level and the other teams will play on the new second tier, and will have to prove significant efforts in the development field as well as administration in their club matters, to be able to reach promotion to the top tier. This sounds like a great concept to tighten the screws in a positive manner and get better contributions to the development out of the teams, as well as to streamline the domestic structures. What are the main goals of this new system and from when on, do you expect, will we see such significant improvement? Will it also help produce better more motivated players?

BM: The response to this system from German clubs has been amazingly positive and it is already bearing fruit as some clubs have taken on youth development for the first time. The current system of having only one league per region does not really fit in with our objectives at the DCB. It neither promotes youth development nor does it give our best players the best environment to improve.

Theoretically, a 16 year old boy, playing his first senior game, could be confronted with bowling from a German international fast bowler in his first over of adult competitive cricket. That is not fair and will not encourage the young batsman. It would be much better to have him learn the game at the lower standard of the regional league, allowing him to progress naturally and if good enough, one day move up to the Bundesliga.

Similarly, it is not the best training for the best players to be playing against novices. They should be pitting their wits against all the other top players on a weekly basis. Therefore we believe that a two (or three) tier league system will allow more competitive and enjoyable cricket to take place in Germany.

It should also be noted that cricket is the only team sport recognised by the German Olympic Committee that does not have a regulation that top tier teams have to be involved in grass roots development. If you are a softball team you can only play in their Bundesliga if you have a youth team. The same is true in rugby, baseball and every other team sport. We are trying to encourage real clubs to be built up in German cricket. A club, in this context, means having your own ground, having two or three men’s teams, a women’s team and youth teams. It might seem utopic, particularly when you realise how difficult it can be to get a ground in Germany, but this is the way we want to see cricket progress.


Meet 'n' greet of two veterans:
Allrounder Farooq Ahmed meets umpiring legend Rudi Koertzen at the WCL Div. 7 in Botswana 2011 (photo: Ehsan Latif)

Potential and limitations of cricket in Germany

Q: How far can cricket in Germany develop, where do you see the sport 20 years from now?

BM: We are realistic and know that cricket will never be a major sport in Germany, but we are ambitious. We want cricket to be known by everyone in the country and we want a structure in place that allows anyone interested in the sport to take part at any level. Hans Mai, the sports director of the Berlin region said to me today that we should look towards a league structure at all youth groups from under 9, Under 11, Under 13 etc. This is realistic and something we are heading towards. Such a structure would feed the adult game with new players and lead to better performances at international level. We have more or less doubled the participation in cricket in the last five years and there is no reason why we cannot continue this speed of growth in the next twenty years.

A long term goal is to gain full membership of the German Olympic Committee. We are a long way away at the moment from having the required number of players to gain membership, but there is no reason why this cannot be achieved in the future.


Q: I sometimes get asked by Asian players or aspiring journalists to provide them with information about job opportunities in German cricket or the chances to play cricket for the German national team. What would you reply to them?

BM: I get at least one of these mails every day. The reality is that you have to be here in Germany to play cricket and at least four years before being eligible to play for Germany. We are a long way away from having professional cricketers, but who knows, one day it might happen.


Youth development and talentspotting

Q: The DCB has announced to put major efforts into talent scouting in 2013. How exactly will this process be intensified? What happens next, once you have spotted a great talent?

BM: ICC Europe has changed its concept with regards to the talented youngsters in its member countries. This summer five of our most talented players will undergo in-depth training with top European coaches for a week together with other top talents from around Europe. When we get real talents, and we have a few of them at the moment, then ICC Europe and the DCB are interested in promoting and improving their abilities.

However, the key to making young players better is regular competition and training possibilities and that is what we are moving towards. This year we are establishing the first ever interregional Under 15 “County Championship” to go together with the Under 19 version that already exists. This will give Sajid Sikandar the opportunity to see the best players and decide who comes into question for the national youth teams that will take part in international competition.

It is also a target to integrate some of the really special talents into the national team, giving them the opportunity to train and learn from the best players in the country.

Two generations: veteran batsman Milan Fernando with young allrounder Tarun Rawat (photo: Ehsan Latif)

Q: The new DCB Youth Championship is a huge step forward to offering the kids a big incentive to play competitively and increase their motivation. How did the first edition go, and has the tournament already helped to unearth some gems?

BM: It went really well and we definitely unearthed a talented player or two who was unknown to us beforehand. The target was to establish this competition and we had to make a compromise or two along the way. Once these tournaments have taken place once, the second year is always much better and I am looking forward to this year’s tournaments.


Q: Another four-nations-youth-tournament, this year between the U19 teams of Germany, France, Belgium and Switzerland, is taking place in August. These countries have very competitive teams and the exposure to these sides will certainly help our young players a lot to improve their skills and gather experience. Is there any chance of making this a regular annual event? Could something like this be organised for the seniors, too?

BM: Tournaments like this are valuable in years when there are no ICC Europe events for our teams to play in. This is the case at senior and junior level. The seniors have enough tournaments at international level this year but we have still found time and budget to allow them to prepare for the ICC Europe Division 1 championships by attending a Twenty20 tournament in Holland in June.

At junior level, last year’s event in Karlsruhe was a real highlight. This year we also have no event at ICC level so we are going to repeat it. Next year there will be an ICC event so it remains to be seen whether we do something in Germany or not. International experience is vital if these young players are going to take the jump into the national team one day, and there are certainly a few players capable of doing so.

The team in Guernsey 2010, European Div. 2. On the right the staff.
From right to left: President Brian Fell, national coach Keith Thompson and team manager Ben Das (photo: DCB)

The future of the German cricket team at international events

Q: Since the ICC scrapped the European 50-over-league, only the T20 is left, via which the teams have to qualify for all global tournaments. We also need to consider that we could drop out of the World Cricket League this year. There has been a lot of disappointment und grumbling about this development, which is perceived by many as a dent in their ambitions to play 'proper' cricket and show their traditional, classical cricket skills. How can the DCB still provide 50-over cricket for the senior team at the European level? Have you talked to cricket boards from other countries? Is there a possibility to form stronger bi- or trilateral relationships between countries of similar strength for more regular competitive encounters and recurring events across the borders? Can such friendlies be used to give more home grown players exposure to competitive international cricket?

BM: Firstly it must be said that the fact that Germany is in the WCL structure is a success in itself. Many of our peers would swap with us immediately on this score and we can rightly be proud of the German national cricket team.

We are under no illusions, staying in WCL is going to be tough with the new structure and we will need to do well to get out of WCL7 in Botswana in April. It will be equally difficult for us to stay in WCL6 if we make it to Jersey in July.

At the moment it is still a little unclear what will happen to 50 over cricket for the national team if we are not in WCL. At this stage we are focussing on staying in the WCL. If we don’t make it we will consider the possibilities then.

Regarding our links to other countries, they are strong and we use every possibility to play against other teams. This is obviously a budgetary question, but last year we travelled to Denmark and Austria and this year we will go to Holland, all outside the organised structure of ICC events. All these games give Keith Thompson the opportunity to test the players on the verge of making the team. This has been successful and some of these players will be on the plane to Botswana.

National players Ehsan Latif and André Leslie having some fun during European Div. 2 in Guernsey, 2010
(photo: Ehsan Latif)

Q: Would it be possible to start a biennial mini Ashes, maybe a three match series, against our arch rivals France? Transferring these historical sports rivalries into cricket is another small thing that could also help attract the natives. The urn could contain the remains of a scorched baguette and a piece of burnt rye bread.

BM: We have a great relationship with the French association and this is a good idea that has often been considered. Who knows?


PHEWWW!


Big thanks to Brian for these bucketloads of info and his straightforward opinion. We have left no stone unturned and no grassy patch ungrazed. We are wishing the German national team all the best for their challenges at the World Cricket League Division 7 in Botswana, which begins on April 1st.

You can get in touch with Brian and Cricket Germany via the following social networks:

Twitter: @Cricket_Germany
Facebook: Deutscher Cricket Bund
Homepage: cricket.de

Go the Germs!!!

Cheers,
Wes

2 comments:

Lou said...

Steffi, very good interview. You really didn't leave any stone unturned. It's always good to read about youth development in Europe in a fringe sport like cricket.

It sounds like they are moving towards more formal structures for the age groups which will draw more young players in.

Wes playforcountrynotforself said...

Lou :) So wonderful to see you around again. Thanks a lot, yes the development is slowly picking up speed and we are hoping to see the results soon, however, this year is crucial for our international status, so all eyes are focused on the current events right now.