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C of E wins with five balls to spare

26 September 2014

The Archbishop's XI delivered a hard-fought victory in Canterbury, writes Bill Day


Aamir Bhatti at the crease, watched by Jonny Hughes

Aamir Bhatti at the crease, watched by Jonny Hughes

THE Archbishop of Canterbury's late arrival seemed to have a galvanising effect on his team in the first-ever cricket match between the Church of England and the Vatican.

For no sooner had Archbishop Welby set a graceful foot on the St Lawrence Ground, Canterbury, than we saw a remarkable comeback by his team against the touring side.

The Archbishop's first assignment of the day had been to consecrate the new Bishop of Basingstoke at Winchester Cathedral. His second engagement was to make the pilgrimage from Winchester to Canterbury in time to attend this historic match.

He discovered, however, that it might have been quicker to pull on sandals and take to the Pilgrim's Way on foot than negotiate the traffic-choked motorway system. By the time he arrived, the cricket ground was cast in shadow and his team were dangerously behind the clock, in need of an act of God if they were to achieve the 107 runs needed for victory in this Twenty20 contest between the two faiths.

The Vatican tourists had been motivated by a blessing by Pope Francis on departure from Rome, and carried with them a cricket bat signed by His Holiness. Now, not far from Canterbury Cathedral, a large crowd, which contained more than 50 clerics, looked on, as it seemed that the papal influence would prevail on the pitch.

The St Peter's Cricket Club XI was led by Fr Tony Currer, a 41-year-old British priest working at the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. It drew its squad, many of them from cricket-loving countries, from the seminaries and pontifical universities in Rome.

Their strength was their enthusiasm, and their experiences with the bat from the time they first began to walk. Their handicap was that several of their number were unfamiliar with grass, being more used to sub-continent dustbowls, and artificial wickets in Rome.

That was not at first apparent when the Vatican won the toss and decided to bat. Opening the batting, the vice-captain, Antony Shehan, from Sri Lanka, treated the opening salvo of rapid deliveries from the Revd Rob Glenny with suspicion; but his partner, Indian-born Shynish Bosco, punished the Revd Matt Lefroy's wayward first over with two successive boundaries.

Shehan remained becalmed for long periods, unperturbed by the suggestion from the match commentator, Henry Olonga, that he might have fallen asleep at the crease. After nine overs, with the Vatican's score at 35-0, the former Zimbabwe test cricketer, now resident in Britain, observed on the tannoy that Shehan might consider a withdrawal "to give someone else a chance". In the mean time, the wides kept the score ticking up.

Much to the crowd's disappointment, the free-scoring Bosco was defeated by a wicked delivery from the Revd Chris Lee in the tenth over. Shehan finally succumbed in the 16th over, with his team at 73-2.

The increasingly belligerent Currer greeted Glenny's return to the attack by square-cutting him to the ropes, and then hoisted him high towards the Colin Cowdrey Stand for another boundary, to raise the score to 94-2 with two overs left. Aamir Bhatti produced a stunning shot to persuade Olonga he should have been promoted in the batting order.

Currer and Bhatti took the score into three figures by maintaining their aggression, and by the time both batsmen had perished to the hardworking Glenny in the final over, the Vatican score sat at 106-4.

The Anglican team's reply began in dramatic fashion, as, after a few overs, its captain, the Revd Steve Gray, was forced to retire with a pulled hamstring. (Gray had taken the captaincy from the injured Revd Jez Barnes, who none the less helped select and train the side. Later in the match, Lefroy joined the injury list.)

That was just about all the drama on offer, however, as the Anglicans opened with even less success than their opponents. The first two overs ended with just two runs on the board, neither of them from the bat.

Shortly afterwards, the crowd gave a rousing welcome to the Archbishop of Canterbury and Mrs Welby on their arrival at the ground. By then, the natural light was fading fast, and the appearance of floodlighting brightened the stage considerably and the tempo of the home team's innings.

Its vice-captain, Chris Lion, aided by Chris Kennedy and then by the gallant Rob Oram, carried the score to 66, before he answered Oram's call for a sharp single and was run out for 29 in the 16th over.

There was another lull, then an unfortunate 18th over bowled by Davidson Jestus, in which he bowled a series of wides, and left the Archbishop's team needing 15 runs off the remaining 12 balls.

Unfortunately for the Vatican side, Benedict David's bowling was no match for the dangerous Oram, who clipped him for a couple of twos and a boundary to bring up the 100. Oram ended up on 26 not out.

Into the final over, then, with the Anglicans needing just three runs to secure victory. One delivery was all that was needed: Andy Watkins clubbed the winning boundary, giving the Archbishop's side a handsome six-wicket victory with five balls to spare.

Archbishop Welby congratulated both sides, and, with the Papal Nuncio, presented the trophy to the winning captain. He also reminded players, officials, and spectators that one of the reasons for the event was to promote the work of the Global Freedom Network.

Clearly overjoyed by the success of this inaugural match, the Archbishop hoped that this fixture might be repeated in the future.

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