In a series of interviews, TME looks to explore cricket in Germany and the individuals responsible for the growth of the game in the most unlikely of countries.
Hans-Heinrich Mai is a 24-year-old economics student at the Humboldt University in Berlin and has become a pivotal part of the growth of young, German cricket. Hans-Heinrich is an all-rounder who bowls pace and bats with brute strength. He has represented Germany at a youth level and coaches the German's women team. He has also pushed the development of the game through an administration role in German cricket. The Munich Eye spoke to him about his cricket background and aspirations!
You are currently playing in Berlin. How did you get involved in the game and where did it all start for you?
It all started in Schwerin, my home town. This tiny, federal state capital in Northern Germany has plenty to offer in terms of nature, culture and good people but it is not known for its cricket. However, back in 2003 a group of friends led by a fanatical journalist, who is from a different part of Germany, started playing an old traditionalised game called "Boßeln". It's actually a funny game played in cold November weather, which means you normally go to a pub afterwards, strictly just to warm up again of course (smirking). Eventually they decided to create a sports club but they didn't want a standard one. They wanted something new, something uncommon. So they decided not to just play "Boßeln" but added boules, cricket and croquet. No one had a clue what the sports were about but ever since the club has been named SBBCCC (Schweriner Boßel, Boule, Cricket & Croquet Club). Amongst those involved in the creation of the club were my parents. My father had been interested in cricket for a while so he read the only German book about it. Honestly! He read it fifty times and eventually we started playing cricket with borrowed kit, teaching ourselves the game.
Was it difficult learning the game?
As I said before, we were teaching ourselves the game. Of course we got help from the DCB (German Cricket Board) and from Keith Thompson but for the most part we improved simply by being interested. By 2006, my father and I became ECB Level 1 coaches, which in turn led to improved development in the area. The club at one point had four teams (First team, U18, U15 and a Women's team). Personally I think learning cricket is always a challenge and it never stops being challenging but that is what makes it such a beautiful game.
Germany is not known for its cricket per say. How much has it changed since you started playing?
It has changed a great deal. When I started there were about 40 clubs across the country, most of which only had one team. Today, there are up to 80 clubs. Most of them are still fairly undeveloped and have only the one team but there are a few pearls that have three adult sides, youth teams and women's teams. Institutionally, the structure of the game has improved. We get more funding from the ICC and have more officials, coaches, umpires, players and grounds. I am really pleased how things are going even if they are progressing slower than I'd like. It's a solid start. In terms of playing quality, the national team has come on leaps and bounds over the last 10 years. The quality in the leagues must continue to improve though.
What does the future of the game hold both in Germany and Europe?
I can see a really bright future for cricket in Germany. Referring to the previous question, the development of the game so far could result in a snowball effect. Obviously the game will never become a major sport in the country but at some point it will be widely known, well structured and of a quality which would allow the national team to compete in high-class international competitions. Most of the regional cricket is going to be played in hubs such as Berlin, Munich, Hamburg, Frankfurt and of course North Rhine-Westphalia. I can't give you a time frame but hopefully it will happen fairly quickly.
Cricket in Europe is an entirely different story. There is so much disparity. On the one side you have England, the home of cricket, and then there's the second tier consisting of the Netherlands, Ireland and Scotland. The countries on the fringes include Denmark, Jersey, Guernsey and possibly even Germany. Next year, we could even be in the next tier up together with France, Gibraltar and Norway. The rest of Europe is effectively basic though. In the bottom tiers, T20 cricket is the big shaper and I can't see it changing. The other countries will continue to develop T20 as well as the one-day format but I don't know if the longer formats are valid options. I doubt it though, particularly for Germany.
How often are training sessions and games held?
This depends entirely on the clubs, the regions and the resources that are available. In Berlin most of the clubs would love to have more training sessions and games but it all comes down to limited resources. We only have two grounds so they get one training session and maybe a game every two weeks. We definitely have to expand on that.
Do you follow international cricket a lot?
I do. Whenever time allows it, I try to watch cricket and almost every lunch break I check the scores at ESPN Cricinfo.com
What have been your favourite moments of playing cricket?
Back in 2010, I took three consecutive 5 wicket hauls in 40-over cricket, including two games in the Munich league and one in northern Italy. The best moment with the bat definitely was a match and tournament winning 82 not out at the "Cricket On Ice Tournament in St. Moritz" in Switzerland. Oddly though, the greatest moment I experienced in cricket was not as a player. I have coached the German national women's team since 2009 and we entered an international women's tournament in Utrecht in the Netherlands last year as defending champions. We had a shaky start losing to Jersey in the first game but the ladies really picked up pace and marched past their opposition all the way to the final. In that game we faced Jersey all over again but this time our performance was of the highest standard. Despite a great effort, we lost in a close final but everyone had raised their game. This particular moment made me unbelievably proud, as it had made all the hard work worth it.
What does German cricket need to make it more substantial?
Easy: Structure, good organisation and a stable connection with the German institutions and authorities.
What are kind of things are involved in the admin side of German cricket?
At the moment I am the sports director of the BCK (Berlin Cricket Komiteé) and coach of the women's national side. The administration job includes the development of the Bundesliga-East as well as the lower leagues in the area. Further tasks include development of youth and women's cricket and structuring the future of cricket in Berlin. My main targets are the implementation of new and better regulations in the league, which should lead to more development within the next two years. To bring women's cricket back to Berlin and into Berlin Universities is another goal of mine, as is finding a third new pitch. In terms of the women's national team, the target is obviously to bring back the title which would be especially nice as we are hosting the international tournament in Berlin this time around.
There is also a story behind the reformation of Berlin's cricket fields. How were you involved in that?
To cut a long story short, in 2011 the Berlin authorities chucked us off our only cricket ground without any notice. As a result, we started a big media campaign to regain access to our ground, one that stretched across the cricketing world. It turned out to be the biggest media campaign German cricket has ever experienced and, pivotally it worked. We kept the ground for that year and that gave us enough time to enter proper negotiations about the future of cricket in Berlin. During this year, the Berlin council and the Olympic Park administration office showed real courage and together we managed to set up two new cricket pitches close to the old ground. We are thankful and in hindsight it is the best thing ever to have happened to cricket in Berlin recently.
Who is your favourite cricketing hero?
Shane Watson and Jacques Kallis