Not long after making a stunning entry into global football with some scintillating performances at the European championship and World Cup, it seems like little Iceland is gearing up for its cricket debut.
Kató Jónsson, a spinner from the Nordic country, is all set to undergo a trial with IPL side Kings XI Punjab on Monday. If everything goes well, he could become the first man from the country, which is yet to receive European Cricket Council membership and ICC affiliate status, to play the elite tournament.
“It’s unbelievable! From watching the IPL on my computer to possibly becoming the first Nordic player to play in it is beyond my wildest dreams. I’m ready and can’t wait to get started,” Jónsson told KXIP's official website.
On March 29, he had tweeted a photo with senior Indian spinner Harbhajan Singh expressing his gratitude to "Bhajji" for his encouragement.
A few words of encouragement from an older, wiser, better spinner. Bhajji (615 white ball wickets at 30.14 with best of 5-18) has really benefited from the help of Kató bhai (629 at 14.27 with best of 9-1). #SRHvRR #IPL2019 pic.twitter.com/U9rMJHfU7q— Kató Jónsson (@cricketkit) March 29, 2019
“This is what the IPL is all about. This proves that cricket is truly a global sport that knows no boundaries. To have a cricketer from Iceland in IPL would be historic and a testament to our belief that opportunity doesn’t discriminate,” Kings XI Punjab CEO Satish Menon told the official website of the team.
The franchise, which is currently fifth in the table and captained by Indian spinner Ravi Ashwin, called Kató a "mystery spinner" as he bowls what is called the "fíflið" or backspin. When bowled with the fingers ripped under the ball, a backspin delivery drops about half of its pace after bouncing, making it difficult for batsmen to time their shots, they said.
With no more than 4 lakh citizens, Iceland reminds us of the Ireland cricket team during its formative years with most of the team members still doing odd jobs to earn a living even while representing the country at the international level.
Due to the extreme weather conditions, there are no regular cricket turfs in the country. The players spend a few hours at the football fields in the capital city during the summer months, hoping to sharpen their game.
As of 2018, the Krikketsamband Íslands (Icelandic counterpart of the BCCI) has 35 active players, and is captained by Abhishek Raj Chauhan, a Delhi-born man who now holds Icelandic citizenship. He used to play competitive cricket for Delhi during his earlier years in India and now works as a bartender in the island, a media report said.
Handball, basketball and tennis are among the popular sports in the country, along with football. Currently ranked 38 in the world, their sudden travel up the ladder in the FIFA rankings has further increased the game's popularity. Cricket is still an alien game to a large chunk of the population.
The Iceland cricket board launched a crowdfunding campaign last year to promote cricket in the country and has played two international matches so far, both against Switzerland. IPL is no strange arena for players from associate countries with a handful of them having punched above their weight to survive among the world's leading players.
Dutch players Ryan ten Doeschate and Dirk Nannes have played the high-profile tournament along with Nepal's Sandeep Lamichhane. Though a permanent member of the ICC presently, Afghanistan had its representation in the IPL during the associate days in Rashid Khan, Mohammad Nabi, Zahir Khan and Mujeeb Ur Rahman.
So what price for a Kató Jónsson IPL entry this April 1, folks?