Highest game of cricket played on Mt. Kilimanjaro to break world record

Tanzania: Map, tent, water, food: check. All needed to scale the snow-capped peak of Africa's highest mountain Kilimanjaro. Bat, ball, stumps, pads: check. Also needed when you're hoping to break the world record for the highest game of cricket ever played.

Two teams are taking part in a gruelling eight-day trek up the vast extinct volcano, to play a full Twenty20 game in the ice-covered crater just below its rugged peak, at 5,785 metres (19,000 feet).

Mount Kilimanjaro
Cricket match to be played at Mount Kilimanjaro. Pic/ AFP

"Kilimanjaro is definitely not somewhere I thought I'd bowl a few overs, but the challenge thanks to the altitude is huge... bring it on!" English bowling legend Ashley Giles, one of the captains of the mixed professional and amateur teams, told AFP.

The eccentric dream, to hear the thwack of willow on leather over three miles (five kilometres) high, was thought up by expedition leader David Harper, a British hotel real estate consultant. Harper said he planned the match in a bar after his wife told him the "only way he was ever likely to play cricket at the highest level would be if he played on the top of a mountain".

After a week of climbing that began Saturday, teams plan to reach the peak at dawn on Friday. But they then must play a full game in the crater of the dormant volcano, laying down a plastic track for the wicket over the ash before playing in the thin, freezing air surrounded by vast blocks of ice.

- Rain won't stop play -

South African icon Makhaya Ntini, the country's first black Test player, is also taking part in what he called an "massive, exciting challenge". There will be half the level of oxygen than at sea level for the game, doubling energy needed for the match. The teams are taking oxygen tanks for medical emergencies. But while flurries of snow may be possible in the bitter cold, organiser Harper promises that at least "rain is unlikely to stop play".

Qualified umpires will ensure the charity game is played properly -- and is eligible to break the record. The mainly English team also includes players from Australia, Canada, Kenya and South Africa. "It is a incredible challenge," said Heather Knight, the other team captain, who back home is vice-captain of the English women's team.

The expedition of over 30 players and umpires -- and an AFP journalist -- are making the trek to the top, along with a Tanzanian support team of over a hundred, helping to carry the kit and food up to the top. The current record for the world's highest game is 5,165 metres (16,945 feet), played in the Himalayas at Everest base camp in Nepal in 2009. If successful, the game on Kilimanjaro will be over 600 metres higher.

- 'No jolly in the park' -

Alan Curr, who played in the 2009 game on Everest, mourned the possible loss of his record and what he joked as his "best conversation starter", but gave his full support to the teams. "The whole point of our trip was to inspire people to get off the sofa and do something with their lives," Curr told AFP from Japan, where he now teaches cricket.

"I think they'll find that once it's done it was not all about the record; but raising funds, making new friends, and doing something that they will talk about forever." While no technical climbing skills are needed, playing a game at two-thirds the height of Everest will have considerable risks, including acute mountain sickness. Curr, author of "Cricket on Everest", warned climbers to take care.

"We saw people being carried down from Everest base camp on stretchers, and two people died on the trek at the same time as we were there -- and those guys weren't doing 22-yard (20-metre) shuttle runs in pads and a helmet," Curr said. "It's no jolly in the park." Players are raising funds for charities including Cancer Research and conservation charity Tusk Trust, which works to stem rampant poaching of elephants and other animals. Funds raised will also go towards building Rwanda's first international cricket pitch.

The game is growing rapidly in popularity there after being introduced by those who returned after fleeing genocide 20 years ago. Three former England captains -- David Gower, Nasser Hussain and Andrew Strauss -- all offered their support, as well as England women's captain Charlotte Edwards. "They must be daft, the lot of them! It's taking cricket to ridiculous heights," Gower said.

"This is an immense challenge," said Hussain, poking fun at old teammate Giles, warning, "Don't forget to take some spare match balls, especially for when Gilo is bowling." Strauss warned "the bowlers may struggle" on a freezing, high-altitude mountain pitch.

"Climbing up the highest mountain in Africa to set up stumps, unpack the cucumber sandwiches and play the highest ever game of cricket will be a truly remarkable achievement," BBC cricket commentator Jonathan Agnew said. 

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