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
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
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
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
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
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
Clearly overjoyed by the success of this inaugural match, the
Archbishop hoped that this fixture might be repeated in the
given a sporting chance in Canterbury
An important game