This first instalment of the tour blog comes to you from the Business Centre at the Gabarone Sun, our home for the next two weeks.
After the hustle and bustle of the tour kit exchange bazaar (a.k.a. Lord's dressing room no. 5), 15 excited tourists assembled for the group photo and individual shots before boarding the bus for Heathrow Terminal 4 at 4pm on Tuesday. We could not have wished for a friendlier welcome when we finally arrived at Gabarone Airport at 11am the next day, as the Botswana cricket officialdom presented us with ice-cold water and treats on the other side of customs, before escorting us to the Sun.
Wednesday and Thursday were spent acclimatising to the surroundings. This included important advice on mosquito protection from "Spider", our Geordie-Batswana security detail, numerous reggae-filled bus journeys chauffeured by "Nelson", our fun-loving bus driver, a delicious tour opening curry dinner put on by our hosts and of course, some much needed practice under floodlights!
Tour Manager Graham Monkhouse also made some important appointments to ensure that the foundations were in place for a smooth operating tour unit. The squad were further helped by some useful fielding advice from umpire Russell Evans, himself a ex-first class player, although he unfortunately collected a black eye for his troubles as one of the players took his suggestion of a sharper throw a little too literally.
Let the tour begin
The tour got underway in earnest with two extremely rewarding coaching sessions at local primary schools, expertly led by "coach" Stuart Davidson. If these clinics are any indication, cricket in Botswana has a bright future.
Despite extremely limited facilities and equipment, children aged no more than 11 have developed batting, bowling and fielding skills far beyond what any of the tour squad could have imagined. The group boarded Nelson's bus humbled by what they had seen and with memories that would last a lifetime.
Friday evening saw the Club's first outing in the form of a T20 night match against the Botswana U21 side.
After some debate over whether the rhino on the coin was a head or tail, skipper Toby Drummond finally admitted defeat and accepted the home side's decision to bat.
Tom Kopleman, celebrating his 25th birthday, started the tour off well with a miserly opening spell. He was well-supported by fellow seamers Leonard, Davidson and Vanderspar. Spinners Ryan and Wilkinson also bowled good spells at the death. Although not perfect, the tour party's fielding display was reasonable given that several had not played under lights before, as they restricted the home side to just 93-4 off their allotment.
Drummond opened the Club's account with Julian Russell, an accomplished left-hander from the Essex league. After playing watchfully at the start of the innings, the two set about the target ever more expansively as time wore on.
Drummond in particular showed good aggression against the spinners, while Russell stole runs at every opportunity with exemplary running between the wickets.
The final runs were knocked off at the start of the 15th over for no loss. Drummond was man of the match for his excellent 43*, with Russell ending unbeaten on 37.
No rest for the wickets
While the cricket could not have got off to a better start, there was no time to rest as a fixture against the same opposition was arranged for 9:30am the following day.
Unfortunately, on this occasion, the cool Gabarone evening would be replaced by blistering 38-degree heat. The skipper atoned for the previous day with a win of the toss and an election to bat.
After a steady opening wicket stand of around 40, the Ealing openers Haxby and Gauri both fell in quick session.
Will Vanderspar, the touring probationer who had much making up to do after misplacing the Club flag earlier in the day, set about the rebuilding the innings with Ben Trotman.
The duo played excellently, putting on a century stand before Trotman departed for a well-made 46. Meanwhile Vanderspar had passed 50 and grew ever more confident with each stroke. After acknowledging his 50 with an understated "thumbs up", not long passed before he reached his century to rapturous applause from his teammates.
At the end of the 50 overs, he remained undefeated on 154*, having played a superb innings enjoyed by all spectators at the Botswana Cricket Association Oval.
Useful cameos were also played by Steelman and wicket-keeper Miles, whose sweeping of the opposition quicks was especially impressive.
The target of 300 proved to be a little too imposing for the young Botswana.
Leonard and Kopleman bowled tightly, forcing the U21s into making errors. Leonard finished with excellent figures of 4/32 off his ten overs.
Kopleman also picked up a couple and delivered the first of two run-outs.
By then the local side had crumbled to 60/8 and the path was cleared for Gauri and Ryan to finish off the innings with one wicket apiece.
Vanderspar was a deserving man of the match as the Club recorded another convincing victory, this time by a 200-run margin.