Welsh cricketers begin opening leg of international tour in Ballarat

AUSTRALIA’S recent victory in the Ashes has seen a wave of cricket fanaticism sweep across the country.

But Ballarat has been subjected to a different type of enthusiasm over the past few days, with the city playing host to the opening leg of the Neath Cricket Club’s first international tour.

A total of 37 members from the club, in the south of Wales, have flown from one side of the globe to another for a three-week cricket-orientated holiday along Australia’s eastern

coast.

The crew touched down in Melbourne on Saturday and opened the tour with a series of exhibition matches against the Mt Clear Cricket Club yesterday.

The parents of Neath’s junior squad took part in a Twenty20 match against some of Mt Clear’s more senior members, before the young stars took part in a 35-over game against Mt Clear’s under-14 and under-16 members.

“It was a nice, friendly day and a great way to break the ice,” event organiser and Neath Cricket Club junior coach Huw Davies said.

“I’ve toured Australia before (as part of the South Wales League) in 2005, and I wanted other members of this club to be given the same experience.

“If we can keep in touch and make contacts with the people down in Australia, then we can create great opportunities for both countries in the future.”

The idea to conduct a junior tour to another part of the world began modestly over several ales at the club’s local bar, but quickly gained momentum when Davies managed to convince several families that the expedition could be turned into an extended holiday.

Since then, the club has been in close contact with Ballarat resident Scott Fletcher to book in several matches against Victoria’s regional clubs.

“It’s mind-blowing to think of the sheer distances these people have travelled in the name of cricket,” Fletcher said.

“It’s a brilliant cricket story, and the whole crew has been in awe at the expanse of the country and the strength and depth of the game in regional areas such as Ballarat.”

While Davies labelled the trip as a potential “once in a lifetime experience”, he has set his sights on a yearly international trip to become a regular in Neath’s

calendar from now on.

The club members will visit the MCG on Thursday and Saturday for the Boxing Day Test and will play in another series of exhibition matches against St Joseph’s Cricket Club in Geelong on Sunday, before flying to Sydney to celebrate the New Year.

The final leg of the journey will see two days of action at the fifth Ashes Test at the Sydney Cricket Ground and more exhibition matches against the Kincumber Avoca and Brisbane Water cricket clubs before the group leaves Australia on January 9.

michael.pollock@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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