When most people think of cricket they tend to think of the likes of India, Pakistan, Australia, England. The list goes on, but I guarantee you no one would mention Argentina on that list. However, Argentina does have early cricketing exploits, it’s about time they are recognized.
To this date, I doubt many Argentine’s are even aware that Argentina has a national cricket team. Well, guess what: they do, and they’re the second best team in South America.
It will also probably surprise many people to find out that Argentina’s first competitive sporting fixture was, in fact, a cricket match, predating both football and rugby by about a decade.
Cricket is commonly regarded as one of England’s most successful exports, and is played wherever the Union Jack was once planted. Cricket itself is said to have been developed in Southern England towards the end of the 16th century, with some even claiming it dates as far back as Norman times.
As Britain began to expand its territories across the globe, expat communities took their beloved sports with them. Rugby, Football and Cricket were chief among them.
Cricket itself is said to have arrived in Argentina following the failed British invasions of the River Plate (the Río de la Plata, they didn’t invade the football team’s stadium or anything like that) in 1806-07. British prisoners of war were kept in the north of Buenos Aires Province and, rumor has it, they played the first cricket game in Argentine history there.
However, according to the now defunct English newspaper based in Buenos Aires, The British Packet, the first recorded cricket game between two teams was held in 1831 in Recoleta, supposedly setting the foundations for the Buenos Aires Cricket Club that was to be founded some 30 years later.
Another little known fact is that Argentina was home to one of the largest British expat communities up until the end of the 19th century. Most of them had been hired to build railways, hence why the railways run opposite to traffic.
At the same time, cricket was beginning to pick up steam on the other side of the Río de la Plata, as Montevideo Cricket Club was set up in Montevideo shortly after. The two challenged one another, and in 1868, Argentina’s first international cricket match was played.
The foundation of the Buenos Aires Cricket Club in 1868 predates any Football team in Buenos Aires. Moreover, the mentioned international fixture predates the first Argentine international football match by 31 years, the first of which took place against Uruguay in 1901. It is estimated that there were anywhere up to 60 cricket clubs active in Argentina before this time.
As for the other oddly shaped ball sport that is Rugby, it didn’t arrive in Argentina until 1873. The Buenos Aires Rugby Club later merged with the Buenos Aires Cricket club to form the — yep you guessed it — Buenos Aires Rugby and Cricket Club. As for Argentina’s first international rugby match, well, it was in 1910, against the British Isles, 40 years after the first cricket match.
Golden years, and the real “Superclasico de las Americas”
Besides football, Brazil and Argentina have been rivals in many things. However, one of their original rivalries was actually cricket. The two sides faced each other for the first time in 1888, and the still meet on an annual basis.
The Second Expedition of the Andes
In 1893, Chile’s cricket team was to face its Argentine counterpart in Santiago. How did they get there? By bus? By train? By boat?
Nope! By mule. In a spectacular feat akin to San Martin’s crossing some 60 years earlier, the Argentine cricket team decided to cross the Andes by mule to take on the Chileans. Impressive, to say the least.
Yet their feat remains largely unknown here in Argentina.
The Eventual Decline of Cricket in Argentina
Prior to the Great War (or World War I, if you will), Argentine cricket was going through a golden era. The reason for its demise is rather a somber one. Cricket was a support mainly played by British expats and Anglo-Argentines, and despite the best efforts and the construction of numerous cricket clubs, the sport never captured the hearts and imagination of the Italian/Spanish majority of the country.
When the Great War broke out in Europe, many young British expats returned to Europe to fight. Most of them never returned.
There was a slight revival in post war Argentina, as annual fixtures against Brazil and Chile were arranged. In addition to this, a South American team comprised mostly of Argentines toured England in 1932.
However, the outbreak of the Second World War, again, saw the return of British and Commonwealth men to fight. When it came to an end, the world was a different place. As a result, the amount of British residents in Argentina began to dwindle, and with them cricket, too.
I was able to speak to Esteban MacDermott, former captain of the Argentine National Team and current head of the Argentine Cricket Association. He explained that the main reason why cricket never caught on in Argentina is due to the nature of the clubs themselves. Membership tended to be almost entirely exclusive to British expats and Anglo-Argentines, and thus when organized sports really began to grow globally with competitions like the Olympics, the player base in Argentina was already minuscule. With the decline in Commonwealth expats, cricket clubs tried to expand membership to other Argentines, but found themselves playing catch up to other more popular sports like Rugby or Football, a situation that persists to this date.
Cricket Today in Argentina
Argentina is currently ranked 22nd in the world, and joined the ICC (International Cricket Council) in 1974 as an associate member. Until recently, the national team played in the 6th Division of international cricket of the ICC World Cricket League, taking on countries like Guernsey, Fiji and Botswana.
Currently, the national team is out of all major competitions and most recently lost in February to the Cayman Islands. A victory would have seen them return to the World Cricket League.
At a continental level, Argentina has frequently been champion of South America since the first competition of the kind, which took place in 1995. However, the team has yet to qualify for a world cup; unsurprising as the entire team is amateur. To put that into context, cricket, like football, is in some places at least a big money business, with some players earning millions through contracts and advertisements. Imagine, if you will, a team made up of amateur going to play in the football world cup.
North v South
During this period, the annual North v South cricket match, was first played in 1891. The match is between 4 teams from the south of Buenos Aires and three teams from the north, one of which is the Indian 11, made up of Indian expats. As of this year, the most recent victor of the tourney was the South.It has since become an annual event and is regarded as the biggest in the Argentine cricket fixture.
To this date it has been played annually with the exception of 1917-18 and 1942-45, again due to the World Wars.
The game is somewhat unique, as it doesn’t follow the 50 or 20 over format as most matches, nor is it test, but is 2 innings played over a 3 day period.
Argentine Cricket League
Domestic cricket is played at league level in Argentina and is divided into two divisions here in Buenos Aires.
The first division consists of 6 teams, and the second of 8. Again, domestic cricket is completely amateur, and as a result, a match can last 40 overs. Macdermott estimates that around 80-90% of cricketers in Argentina are Argentines. The remainder being Indians or Commonwealth expats.
The Future of Argentine Cricket
Cricket is currently being taught in around 15 schools, all of which are bilingual and have some strong cultural connections to the Anglosphere. Thus the exposure is there, but it remains limited to say the least.
However, a development program was introduced in 1996 by the Argentine Cricket Association. Founded in 2011, Cricket Without Boundaries was set up in the notorious Villa 21 to get youngsters to play cricket, and as of late, it has proven to be a success. Since then it has spread from Barracas to three other low income areas in Buenos Aires. Esteban assured me that many young residents are playing street cricket rather than football.
I asked Esteban whether he saw the next generation of Argentine cricketers coming from lower income families. He responded saying it was a move the ACA was seriously considering. The potential is there, but it would require a total change in strategy and development. The problem, however, is the cost. Funding is often limited, and anyone that plays cricket will assure you that it is not a cheap sport to play. Someone would have to foot the bill seeing that 95% of the ACA’s funding comes from the ICC. Funding from the Argentine government isn’t readily available either, as cricket is not an Olympic sport.
The next step is for Argentina to play regular fixtures, with the aim being World Cup qualifiers within the next two decades. However, with the ICC reluctant to expand the World Cup, especially since it’s cut the number of teams eligible to qualify, it remains to be seen just how much support associate members will get from the sport’s main board.
For those who are interested in playing cricket, a list of clubs and pitches can be found here.