Kerala – described as ‘God’s own country’ – is a far cry from a cold and rainy February in West Sussex. And that was exactly what a lucky touring party from Barns Green Cricket Club were able to find out last month.
Tour planning initially focused on the chance to play cricket in India, but soon evolved to become a much more important experience for all involved. 56 people – friends, families and supporters of BGCC – set off for Trivandrum on February 16 aiming to fully immerse themselves in Keralan culture.
Unsurprisingly, the first major challenge for us was the climate. An equatorial sun was a more than worthy adversary, as the club started its first cricket matches. Luckily, the Keralan Cricket Association had arranged games at the stunning St Xavier’s College ground, which provided a comforting ocean breeze when chasing leather.
Nevertheless, we received a proper cricketing lesson. Games against state-level opposition were eye-opening, especially given the dedication that Keralan players have to their technique (plus a real willingness to win). Barns Green found it hard going on low pitches, where patience was a virtue and mistakes were harshly punished.
Despite losing the series over eight games, the most pleasing aspect was how everyone embraced the universal language of cricket. Young players from Barns Green quickly found common ground with their Keralan counterparts, and even managed to benefit from a session with the State Academy coach.
Kerala, like most places in India, is cricket mad and the KCA ensured we were made to feel incredibly welcome. Local players wanted to know everything about cricket in West Sussex, and even talked about bringing a touring side to the area one day. Young guns Matt Cooper, Conor Blanchard and Nick Cooper led the way in integrating the Indian approach, and made friends for life following a match against a Keralan under-19 side.
Away from the cricket, the group explored many different facets of life in Kerala. Trips to a tea plantation, famous Keralan backwaters, a local university and the beautiful Kovalam beach ensured we came away with an authentic Indian experience. Everywhere we went people wanted to hear about life in the UK, and the tour exceeded expectations in terms of cultural exchange between Barns Green and Kerala.
There was no better example of enjoying that culture than the food. Seafood, fish, exotic fruit and vegetables were the staple. We were very well looked after at the Hycinth Hotel in Trivandrum – our base for 10 days – who made sure we tried everything Kerala had to offer.
On departing for the airport, the prevailing feeling was ‘I do not want to leave.’ As the club chases more success – following four promotions in the last two years – this Indian tour was an ideal way to start the 2017 season.
For the first time this year, BGCC will field a league 3rd XI and the young players who will form the core of that side could not have asked for a better cricketing and cultural education.