The Vatican’s new cricket club aims to reach the far corners

The Vatican launched their cricket ambition in Rome this week – a powerful side, according to their publicity machine – and they intend to issue challenges to engage with other denominations and religions in 2014.

While it is surprising cricket has reached the Vatican, the game has become reasonably well entrenched in northern Italy, as the CCC tour party in September would attest. So the formation of a cricket club by Pope Francis is to be warmly welcomed, and the appearance of St Peter’s CC will be eagerly awaited, with the Church of England one of their main targets.

The Pontifical Council for Culture served up tea and cucumber sandwiches for the launch for added authenticity and said priests and seminarians – and eventually nuns – would have a new outlet for their sporting passions in the yellow and white colours of the Vatican flag.

Monsignor Melchor Sanchez, honorary president of St Peter’s CC, said the cricket team represented the council’s desire to go to the peripheries of the world that Pope Francis had spoken of. He hoped aloud for a game against the Anglicans in London, venturing Lord’s as a venue in September next year, the holiday month for seminarians in Rome. He said Hindu and Muslim teams of seminarians would be welcomed for matches, especially from India.

Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, informally known as the Vatican’s ‘culture minister’, said that a wave of immigration in Italy had brought many young aficionados of cricket to the country. “I never imagined cricket was so popular in Rome,” he said. “Cricket is alien to our culture, but it has become part of our culture as an expression of inter-culturality.”

The cricket chairman Theodore Mascarenhas, an Indian priest and apparently a good off-spin bowler, reckoned the Vatican could field a side “strong enough to beat anyone in the world,” and he joked: “I don’t think we’re lacking for spiritual direction or guidance.”

While Pope Francis is known as an avid football fan of San Lorenzo in his native Argentina, Mascarenhas said he was a “very open man” and that cricket would be part of that openness.

According to reports, preparations for a cricket club began about a year ago thanks in large part to the enthusiasm of Australia’s ambassador to the Holy See, John McCarthy, and his belief in “sporting diplomacy”. Estimates suggested there were between 250 and 350 potential players from around the world studying in clerical colleges in Rome.

The Capannelle CC ground outside Rome has been earmarked as the St Peter’s venue, and nets are available in Trastevere, near the Rome city centre. The slogan of the now defunct cricket equipment used by Tony Greig in his prime springs to mind: ‘Sportsmen get on famously with St Peter’.

The CCC enjoyed a six-match tour organised by the Italian Cricket Federation and hosted by Milan Cricket Club – the other MCC after Marylebone and Melbourne – under the captaincy of Mark Smith (Wimbledon CC) in September.

The CCC were struck by the enthusiam of their hosts and the unending generous hospitality. The opening fixture against Idle CC at Lodi was especially notable. The game was played on a reclaimed radish field and artificial strip surrounded by a dense maize field. The skill of the Italian side at retrieving the ball from this cultivated jungle would draw applause from the visitors.

Robbie Book, a supporter on the tour, commented: “The match undoubtedly served as a lesson for our younger players, who have only ever played in a league environment, in the difficulties experienced by clubs in the developing cricketing nations. Just to play a match means everyone must do everything – teas, wicket, outfield, boundary, changing room and so on. Rocking up to the ground, playing and going home is not in the truly amateur culture of Italian cricket.”

CCC tour party

Mark Smith (captain, Wimbledon CC) Zashan Arshad (Tring Park CC) Eddie Ballard (Bishop’s Stortford CC) Sam Burge (East Molesey CC) Joe Ellis-Grewal (Wanstead CC) Richard Hindley (Havant CC) Waqas Hussain (Slough CC) Imran Qayyum (Finchley CC) Jamie Southgate (Welwyn Garden City CC) Will Stickler (Tunbridge Wells CC) Edward Wharton (Hornsey CC) Richard Wharton (Hornsey CC) Coach: Min Patel Manager: Mark Stear Umpire: Steve Hodge Scorer: Geoff Knight

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