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Gutman reflects on good innings in Israel

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South-African oleh Herschel Gutman has put cricket on the map in Israel. This former captain and coach of the Israel national cricket team wasn’t just named International Cricket Council (ICC) European Coach of the Year for 2013, he also helped to establish the Israel Night Cricket league.

“Cricket is a very small sport in terms of popularity in Israel,” Gutman told the SA Jewish Report. “Not many play the game. I think they struggle with the concept of cricket and standing on the field for a certain amount of time without doing anything. That’s why we developed night cricket.”

Many cricketers in Israel can’t play on Shabbat for religious reasons. With Sunday being a workday in the holy land, time is precious. In 2010, night cricket was introduced as a way for cricket lovers in Israel to play the game without having to dedicate even half a day to playing. The league also enables Olim to stay connected to the gentleman’s game.

“The league has become quite popular in Israel,” says Gutman. “A big community plays in it. During a game, everyone is involved all the time.”

Each match takes 90 minutes, and involves two teams of eight players competing against each other based on the rules of the traditional indoor leagues played around the world. “Every batting pair bats for four overs,” says Gutman. “Every very bowler bowls two overs. If you’re out, you don’t actually go out. A few runs are just subtracted from your team’s score.”

Due to the lack of suitable outdoor facilities, the league is played on a double basketball court in the relatively new Israeli city of Modi’in, located in the Shephelah, halfway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

“It’s a good space for people to be introduced to cricket,” says Gutman. “We’ve seen maybe seven junior Israeli players starting cricket in this format and then playing for Israel and at Maccabiah.”

Today, Gutman is an award-winning wedding photographer who still runs night cricket. “I was employed by the Israel Cricket Association [ICA] for about four years,” he says. “I left that to do photography. I’m still involved in cricket day teams on a small scale, helping them out and coaching when I can.”

In 2000, ICA brought Gutman to Israel with a colleague, who now lives in Australia. “We were sent to Israel to try and boost junior cricket involvement,” says Gutman. “We went to different schools and towns to promote the sport.”

He had played cricket in South Africa for Green Point Cricket Club before getting coaching qualifications through organisations like the United Cricket Board, English Cricket Board, ICC, and even the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA).

In 2001, the ICA named Gutman director of cricket coaching. “I tried to get children involved in cricket. I played for and coached the national teams as well.”

Eight years later, he became ICA national cricket development officer. “Through that, I was sent into England every five or six months to do more cricket coaching courses.”

In 2013, Gutman received the ICC European Coach of the Year award for leading ICA’s training development programme. He beat competition from the likes of Andy Flower, who coached England to an Ashes series win at home that year.

Whereas the South African-born Flower played cricket for Zimbabwe, Gutman did so for Israel. A memorable moment for the man the media nicknamed “Gutters” was smashing 51 off 37 balls in Israel’s European play-off Twenty20 match against Croatia in Zagreb in 2011.

By then, “Jonty Rhodes and Adam Bacher [had] come to Israel in 2007 along with a few other international players to play in an Israel invitational team for Israel’s 60th anniversary,” says Gutman. “We played against India A. Four of their players went on to play test cricket for India. We lost four of four, but after the first game, we competed.”

Asked how far cricket can go in Israel, Gutman says, “Without funding, it can’t grow. You need money to employ coaches, invest in the youth, and get more locations to play cricket. At the moment, we’re almost treading water. European cricket helps us to a small degree, but we’re pretty much on our own. It’s a miracle to have survived until now.”

That said, many of the cricketers coached by Gutman have gone on to play for the national team and perform well. “Israel plays against a lot of European teams, which always have an influx of Pakistan, Afghanistan, or Sri Lankan-born players who have come to countries like Sweden, Norway, and Germany,” says Gutman. “Their leagues are always expanding, but Israel competes well against them.”

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