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Greece and her cricket connections

Balaskas,-Traicos,Pothas

Cricket has not been, if you mind the pun, entirely Greek to the Greeks. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at the Greeks who tried a hand at the sport at international level.

One does not expect cricketers to emerge from the land of Plato and Socrates, of Homer and Aristotle, of Alexander and Troilus, of Herodotus and Pythagoras, of Archimedes and Sophocles; but they did come, sending down thunderbolts as potent as Zeus’ when it was their turn to bowl; running as fast as Hermes on the field; had protected their wicket like Colossus at the crease; and basking in the aftermath of victory in a way reminiscent of Dionysus.

Cricket has been played in Greece since 1823, but they became an International Cricket Council (ICC) Affiliate Member in only as late as 1995. They have managed to send their men to other countries to play cricket. Some, like Theo Paul Doropoulos, the Western Australia and South Australia all-rounder, had to restrict themselves to domestic cricket; some, like Roger Telemachus, probably have Greek origin, but there is little documentation regarding their arrival; however, there have been Greeks at international level as well.

The restaurateur’s son

The first cricketer of Greek origin to play international cricket was Xenophon Constantine Balaskas. His parents were of Greek origin, and owned the first restaurant at Kimberley. De Beers (the diamond company that as good as owned Kimberley in that era) made sure he was tutored by Charlie Hallows.

Balaskas made his Test debut in 1930-31, the leg-spinner is remembered for his figures of five for 49 and four for 54 against a full-strength England at Lord’s in 1935. South Africa clinched the match by 157 runs to register their first Test win on English soil. Balaskas finished with 22 wickets at 36.63 from 11 innings (17 of them came from four innings).

Being of Greek origin also helped Balaskas to become the first Test cricketer with a first name that started with an X (it took decades for Xavier Marshall and Xavier Doherty to enter the list).

The most global of ’em all

With his sharp features, Athanasios John Traicos can easily be mistaken for a character straight out of Asterix at the Olympic Games. Traicos’ father Tryphon was from Lemnos; he went to Egypt at 12, met his future wife there (who was from Kalymnos). John Traicos was born in Zagazig.

The family then moved to Rhodesia, which made Traicos, with his canny and accurate off-breaks, forge a career; he was coached by Trevor Goddard and, by some twist of fate, Balaskas. “He was a tremendous bowling coach. He was particularly supportive of me because we were both of Greek heritage,” said Balaskas to Barney Spender in an interview with Athens News.

Traicos played for South Africa during their famous whitewash when Ali Bacher’s team whitewashed Australia 4-0. Traicos looked back as his debut somewhat surprising: “My selection for South Africa surprised everyone, especially myself.” Unfortunately, that was South Africa’s last Test before their ban.

With Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) emerging as a separate cricket nation, Traicos went on to lead Zimbabwe in World Cup 1987 before making a comeback to Test cricket after 22 years 222 days — still a world record. Taking field with ten debutants, Traicos did an impressive job at an age of 45. He went on to play till he was 45 years 304 days — the highest for anyone since Miran Bakhsh in the 1950s.

More accurate than penetrative, Traicos’ averages were quite pedestrian, but his economy rates — 2.86 in Tests and 3.89 in ODIs — were more than impressive given the era and the oppositions. Traicos added to his list after retirement, settling down in Perth — linking himself to a fifth country after Greece, Egypt, South Africa, and Zimbabwe.

The prodigal son returns

The Johannesburg-born Nic Pothas did not play Tests, but the wicket-keeper managed to play three ODIs for South Africa at the turn of the millennium. However, he carved a niche of his own for Hampshire, punctured by appearances for Gauteng and Transvaal.

Then he was contacted by the Hellenic Cricket Foundation (how cool a name is that?) on Facebook. The communication increased, and, almost inevitably Pothas turned up to play for Greece in 2012 in the European Championship Division Two Twenty20 tournament at, of all places, Corfu. Greece finished third in Group B, but Pothas, star batsman, wicket-keeper, and captain of the side, dazzled with 195 runs being dismissed only once. The list of opposition makes for some surreal reading: Sweden, Isle of Man, Croatia, Cyprus, Finland, and Estonia.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Deputy Editor and Cricket Historian at CricketCountry. He blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in and can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)

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