When the Vatican went into bat for Italian cricket

The Vatican Cricket team (yellow jackets) with the Argentinian Cricket Sin Fronteras in Buenos Aires in January (Facebook)

The survival of cricket in a country where soccer is everything can be attributed to the likes of Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge and other cricketers at the Vatican. Source: The Weekend Australian.

The young Mark Coleridge was preparing to take the field in a cricket match in a park surrounding Rome’s picturesque Villa Doria Pamphili in the 1980s when a bemused local approached.

“What are you doing?” asked the Italian, casting his eye over the unfamiliar sight of players in whites, with wooden bats and leather balls, in the grounds of a Roman villa. “Are you shooting a movie?”

It was not an entirely surprising reaction. Cricket was virtually unknown in Italy at the time, having been outlawed by Benito Mussolini before World War II, as it was considered to be inextricably connected with England.

“There was always a bit of a crowd stopping to watch us playing,” Archbishop Coleridge said.

Nonetheless, there was one place in Rome where Mussolini could not entirely exert his power: the Vatican.

“Religious cricket” was still played there and in Catholic seminaries and monasteries by British, Australian and South African members of the Church, says Simone Gambino, president of the Italian Cricket Federation.

Arthur Hinsley, who became Archbishop of Westminster in 1935, is credited with keeping the flame of the game alive. After arriving at the Vatican in 1917 as Rector of the Venerable English College in Rome, he bought land that was adapted as a cricket pitch.

The game survived and slowly emerged in post-war Italy, with members of the Church joining local teams, alongside English-speaking expats, and, increasingly, the “new Italians” from Sri Lanka, India and other parts of the subcontinent.

And according to Mr Gambino, Archbishop Coleridge — an opening batsman who also bowled right-arm orthodox spin — was one of the best players in Italy in the 1980s.

“Simone is too kind,” Archbishop Coleridge said. “I might have played well but the best player, at least in my club, was another Australian priest from Melbourne, Fr Peter Matheson.”

FULL STORY

How the Vatican saved cricket in Italy from Mussolini (The Weekend Australian

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