Henry Blofeld: Mediterranean marvels keep the flag flying

Menorca may be the least well known and the most uncommercial and tranquil island in the Balearics, but it surely possesses the most beautiful cricket ground in the Mediterranean. This is in no way a legacy of English rule, which ended in 1802 when the island was passed back to Spain. It is the result of the remarkable efforts of a group of expatriate Englishmen.

Menorca may be the least well known and the most uncommercial and tranquil island in the Balearics, but it surely possesses the most beautiful cricket ground in the Mediterranean. This is in no way a legacy of English rule, which ended in 1802 when the island was passed back to Spain. It is the result of the remarkable efforts of a group of expatriate Englishmen.

In what now seems the dim distant past, Menorca, spelled with an e rather than the i which, much to the fury of those who live there, it is almost universally given, was twice under English rule. There are still a number of English footprints too, including an imposing house where Nelson is reported to have shared his bed with Emma Hamilton - a rumour, for that is what it is, which does no harm to the tourist trade.

There is a flourishing English community, especially in the south of the island and it is hardly surprising that the game of cricket should have cropped up, although it was as comparatively recently as 1985 that the Menorcan Cricket Club was founded. To start with they had to make do and mend on a couple of football pitches with a trusty piece of coconut matting laid down in the middle.

A group of a dozen Englishmen led by Andrew Manners, once a stalwart brewer and still chairman of the club and an occasional player, then decided that this was not good enough. They pooled their resources and bought two small fields not far from Mahon airport.

Then began the job of clearing the area, and it is conservatively reckoned that more than a million rocks and stones had to be removed. The stones have been used to build a characteristic dry-stone wall around the perimeter of this four and a half acre ground. The area was levelled, an efficient sprinkler system was installed, new topsoil was brought in followed by grass seed and it was left to nature and the most amiable of climates to get on with it.

With remarkable speed this rocky, arid and dusty corner of Menorca was changed into something extraordinarily green and English. It is quite a shock to drive down a narrow winding lane with low stone walls on either side and at the end to turn left into a verdant oasis sprinkled with white flannelled figures.

The pavilion and bar, covered with the photographs of the great and the good who have given the ground and the club their blessing, stand at one end. Allan Lamb and Frank Tyson are two former Test cricketers who have been recent visitors. The scoreboard and the scorers are perched behind the boundary at wide long on and there are plenty of chairs, a fair amount of shade, several spectators and a lovely country feel to it all, with bushes growing round the boundary.

Each weekend from April until the end of June the club plays host to visiting sides, mostly from England although they have come from as far afield as Vancouver. In the hot months of July and August the locals compete amongst themselves and then the visiting sides start up again in the autumn. Their season ends in October with a six-a-side competition featuring 12 teams from around the world.

When I was there on Saturday the club was playing a visiting side from Milton, near Bicester. Menorca batted first and with the help of a robust, green sun-hatted Australian - you can't keep them out of it - who looked a bit like Ian Harvey and hit the ball like a kicking horse, reached 234 in their 40 overs. In an excellent finish the visitors needed 11 from the last over and only achieved four of them.

They have not attempted to put down a turf pitch and as a result play on a mat laid down on a concrete strip. The standard was far from negligible and I saw any number of glowing cover drives besides one leg glance which would have had even Ranji licking his lips. The Milton wicketkeeper was also one to watch.

It was not until last week that the club received the official stamp of approval, when it was accepted as a sports club by the town hall and local government. This means that it is now in line to receive a subsidy which will enable the club to bring local schoolchildren to the ground for coaching. They are trying to find a Spanish-speaking coach and hope that they will run one to ground in Argentina, where they are going on tour next February.

So far they have been unable to convert any of the local Menorcans to the game. This is something they are determined to do and they feel it will not be impossible to create an interest in the schools. If they can come up with one decent local lad others will surely follow.

If any club side fancies a game in this lovely setting they should chase up menorcacc.com and clock in. They would not regret it. It is a wonderful setting, there is some decent cricket and Menorca CC are the most convivial of hosts.

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