THE Vatican has acquired a taste for cricket. It is represented by the St Peter’s Cricket Club, which draws on seminarians from theological colleges in Rome, and whose team is touring England this summer. There are games against the House of Commons, for example, and against young inmates in Belmarsh Prison.
For the grand occasion of the tour — a game at Lord’s, the headquarters of cricket — the St Peter’s team was strengthened by a number of sporty Anglican priests from the Archbishop of Canterbury’s XI, including familiar faces from the Church Times Cricket Cup finals.
It was the first time that players from the two teams had appeared on the same side; so a certain element of confusion was to be expected — although not on the pitch. The official scorecard described the team as the Vatican XI.
Their opponents were a multifaith team, captained by Lord Patel of Bradford, who chairs Social Work England and is also a director of the England and Wales Cricket Board. A prominent sponsor was Muslim Aid, and Muslims predominated; but the team included Hindus, Jews, a Sikh, and a Buddhist.
Pope Francis had sent a message of support, quoting from his 2013 address to the European Olympic Committee: “Because the language of sports is universal, it extends across borders, language, race, religion, and ideology; it possesses the capacity to unite people together by fostering dialogue and acceptance.”
The message continued: “Commending all taking part to the maternal intercession of Our Lady of Walsingham, as a pledge of peace and joy Pope Francis willingly invokes an abundance of Almighty God’s blessing.” (The village of Little Walsingham, Norfolk, has two shrines, one Anglican, one Roman Catholic, which have a warm ecumenical relationship.)
The Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) generously waived the fee for the use of the nursery ground, for a game of 20 overs each. The field was overlooked by the brooding bulk of the Media Centre at one end, and the fine trees of St John’s Wood cemetery at the other. The rustic element was a wooden hut, wheeled in for the occasion to house the scorers and show the score.
The heatwave meant that it was shirt-sleeve order for most of the spectators in the stand by the MCC’s cricket school. The only people dressed up for the occasion were members of the St Peter’s team, resplendent in well-cut golden-yellow blazers. The bar was busy serving pints of iced water and cola.
To promote an even contest, rules were bent. Batsmen agreed to retire if their score reached 30. The Vatican/Canterbury XI were put in to bat first, and four of their batsmen were undefeated, having relished short boundaries and some unthreatening bowling. The four scored seven sixes among them, the finest shot of the day being an elegant cover drive by Kennedy. The multifaith team used eight bowlers, only four of whom took wickets: one went to Lord Patel, and a second to the only woman on the field, Sabah Nasim, a London solicitor who coaches women cricketers in the East End of London.
The multifaith team were set 186 to win, but were perhaps over-awed by their surroundings. Of their batsmen, Hafner was obliged to retire, having scored 31. Lord Patel hit a six and a four during a stubborn innings of 16. Towards the end, there was a sudden flourish in which 42 runs came off four overs from Watkins and Allerton (who bowled but did not bat). After 20 overs, Lord Patel’s team were all out for 124, 61 behind. But few people were counting, and none were caring too deeply.
Munya Chidakwa/Muslim AidThe two teams line up with Lady Scotland
The match provided the context for Lady Scotland, who heads the Commonwealth Secretariat in London, to launch a campaign, Peace at the Crease. The idea is to co-opt cricket as a tool for community development in the Commonwealth.
Lady Scotland intends to bring together cricketers from diverse faiths and cultural backgrounds to compete for the Commonwealth Cricket Club. Although the Vatican does not qualify, the game played at Lord’s was a fine example of the goodwill that the Commonwealth is anxious to spread.
The day finished at a reception in another part of the Lord’s complex. In a Q&A between Mike Gatting and Sir Clive Lloyd, Sir Clive remarked: “If you make a cricketing friend, you make a friend for life.”
Guy Lavender, the CEO and secretary of the MCC, hoped that the match was the first of many such events. “Cricket”, he said, “has the ability to break down barriers like no other sport.”
E. Wright b. K. Prabhakar 2
S. Rylands retired not out 31
C. Kennedy retired not out 34
S. Ferdinado lbw b. Nasim 6
C. Lee retired not out 34
K. Markose c. b Patel 16
A. Watkins retired not out 31
A. Paulson c. b S. Cooper 8
A. Marshal c. b Prabhakar 11
J. Matthew b. Prabhakar 0
J. Ettolil not out 2
Bowling: Pranhakar 3-22, Banerjee 0-25, Liss 0-22, Nasim 1-14, Ravat 0-21, Malik 0-18, Patel 2-22, Cooper 1-24, Farooq 0-9
A.S. Lall lbw b.Paulson 27
S. Liyanage retired 10
A. P. Hafner retired not out 31
Lord Patel c. b Ettoli 16
V. Banerjee c. b Allerton 10
S. Cooper lbw b Rylands 2
K. Prabhakar run out 14
A. A. Rovat not out 1
N. Liss not out 4
Banerjee and Nasim did not bat.
Bowling: Matthew 0-12, Lee 0-2, Ettolil 1-31, Paulson 1-23, Marshall 0-6, Watkins 0-24, Allerton 1-18, Rylands 1-2