IT WAS a good result. After their narrow defeat in the inaugural match in Canterbury last September, the Vatican cricket side beat the Anglicans by 42 runs in Rome on Saturday.
At the Cappannelle ground on the outskirts of Rome, playing in blazing sunshine, the St Peter’s XI posted what proved to be an unassailable score of 147 for 7, assisted by a generous helping of Anglican extras. The Archbishop of Canterbury’s side chased bravely, but managed only 105 all out.
It means that honours are now even, and both teams have had the “Ut unum sint” Cup in their possession, to which were added this year the St Augustine’s trophy and, for the losing side, the St Dunstan’s Cup.
Even though it’s one of the fastest-growing sports in Italy, most Italians, and a certain Latin American cleric, still struggle to understand what cricket is. But they understand sport, and a victory will pique greater interest.
Of course, to a losing side and its supporters, a defeat is never a good result. Archbishop Welby, when he commissioned the team earlier in the month, hoped for a narrow victory, but a victory none the less.
Indeed, in their warm-up match on Friday evening, his side appeared to be honing just this skill, pulling off a win against a local side, the Roma Cappannelle B team, with one ball to spare.
But they can have no complaints about Saturday’s result. The Vatican side, made up once again of seminarians from the Indian sub-continent (plus one Australian), was younger, faster, and made fewer mistakes.
First, a word about the pitch. The existence of the ground, part of the Cappannelle race-course, is a remarkable testimony to the persistence of Alfonso Jayarajah and his fellow enthusiasts. It is a relative new ground, though, with a synthetic wicket and a grass outfield that holds on to any rolling ball. As a result, fours are rare.
The Anglican captain, Steve Gray, won the toss and elected to field, encouraged by his team’s successful chase in Canterbury last year.
Things began well. By the end of the third over, one of the Vatican openers, Gormley, had gone for two runs, bowled by Foulger, caught by Gray, and there were only 13 runs on the board.
There then followed two costly rounds, as Glenny and Foulger produced 12 wides between them. This had little to do with the width of Anglicanism, sadly: in Twenty20, any ball down the leg side is deemed a wide. By the end of the fifth over, the score stood at 40 for 1.
Gray steadied the ship, bowling two overs for the loss of three runs apiece, and taking the second wicket, Paulson, lbw. Lion took over the bowling at the other end.
But, by now, the Vatican side had their eye in. Bosco scored 25 runs, including a six and two fours. Bhatti, by far the Vatican’s most dangerous player, managed the same number of boundaries, and scored from almost every ball he faced.
Neither was easy to winkle out. Bosco went in the 13th over to a catch by Lefroy; Bhatti hung on till the 19th over, when he was bowled by Watkins for 43.
More wickets fell towards the end, and Glenny returned for a second, more successful spell; but Lion and Lee, two of the Anglicans’ handiest players, were both unwell, and each finished with a costly over.
Of the Vatican’s total of 147 for 7, 109 runs were made off the bat; there were 38 extras.
The athleticism of the Vatican’s players at the crease was all the more apparent when they fielded. The Anglicans, never as fast between the wickets, were under constant pressure from snappy fielding; indeed, there were three run-outs.
None the less, against all the odds, the Anglicans kept pace with their opponents. At the end of the 13th over, the Vatican side had been on 81 for 3. At the same point in their innings, the Anglicans were 83 for 3.
But the 14th over proved the turning point in each innings. In theirs, St Peter’s scored 14 runs, 13 of them from the bat of Bhatti.
In their 14th over, the Anglicans lost Lee, their most valuable batsman, clean bowled by Manjula.
The 15th over was worse: Bhatti caught Oram, who had just reached double figures, and then, three balls later, despatched Gray with a throw straight at the wicket from a seemingly impossible angle.
The rest of the Anglican side was mopped up for 15 runs. Robinson was 8 not out. Manjula ended with the day’s best bowling figures, taking four wickets for 14 runs.
Two ambassadors gave the cups, Nigel Baker, the British Ambassador to the Holy See, and John McCarthy, his Australian counterpart, who helped found the St Peter’s Club two years ago. Their diplomatic skills were not needed: at the start, the teams had prayed together for a good match. As all shared in the infectious joy of the winning team, it was clear that the prayers had been answered.