INTERNATIONAL cricket came to Garnons last week as the picturesque Hereford club played host to a match between Herefordshire U17 and a touring Norway U19 side.
The home side battled back to clinch an 18-run victory in a dramatic final innings that saw momentum swing back and forth.
Coming down to the business-end of the match, Norway’s final-wicket partnership needed 20 from the last three overs.
Herefordshire skipper Will Helme bowled to Norway’s number five, P Bhart, who was on 53 and having little trouble finding the boundary.
The county’s captain bowled a full-length delivery which beat the Norwegian for pace before leading the celebrations as the lofted shot found the hands of a fielder at mid-off.
For much of the innings, this result seemed unlikely.
Norway’s opening partnership, skipper Amad Sheikh (34) and Nadeen Aravinda (45), looked at home playing on grass – they use only artificial wickets for their clubs in Oslo – stroking their side into a strong position at 87-1.
Chasing 244 – a total boosted by Freddie Coleman coming in at number seven to hit 66 off 28 balls – they went after Herefordshire’s bowlers, displaying an impressive range and power in their shots.
“We were pushing each other,” said Sheikh, 17. “I always like to play aggressive cricket, to put pressure on the bowlers.”
Both, however, got out chasing needless shots and while Bhart stood tall, the middle order fell around him, giving away their wickets, with a pair of run-outs coming in as many overs.
To the disappointment of their coach, this happened while remaining ahead on run-rate, right up until the final few overs.
“We need to learn to play better tactical cricket,” said Norway head coach Peter Brett.
“This, in part, is what the tour’s about.”
Herefordshire’s first-change spinner Taylor Pugh best exposed that lack of experience – building pressure as the Scandinavian’s struggled to adjust to the unusual surface. While Norway’s batsmen looked at times frustrated, the young players – who come from a country with just five permanent pitches – never lost their enthusiasm for being out there.
Pugh, having just completed his overs, said: “They’re good, but usually when it’s tight you get a bit of edge. These boys just keep chatting.”
The other ‘part’ of the tour is about exposing talented youngsters to the wider cricketing world, and returning to Norway to show governing bodies the impact improved organisation could have on the Norwegian game.
Currently those five pitches are used by 55 clubs, with more joining every year, in a summertime that is shorter and less predictable than in Britain.
But with Oslo’s growing Asian community - the U19 team are almost entirely of Indian or Pakistani descent – the game is taking off in a big way among young first, second and third generation immigrants.
“We watch IPL and the Ashes,” said Sheikh. “England are my favourite team.”
“It’s the dream to come over and play for an English club,” added Aravinda, 18, who had been approached by one of the Welsh sides they had played against.
The squad got a taste of the big-time themselves, when they watched Glamorgan play t20 last Wednesday.
Brett, whose background is in Cricket Wales, convinced SWALEC stadium staff to put the boys up on the big screen.
The sight of the squad, all in their red and blue one-day kit, brought cheers from crowd – and started the Norwegian version of a Mexican wave – the Norwave. “People were chanting ‘NORWAY! NORWAY!,” said Aravinda. “Kids came up asking for our autographs.”
The bright lights of Cardiff far behind, Norway had more sheep than people watching them at Garnons, but as Brett noted, they were growing as players day-by-day on the tour.