Cricket is a team game which mystifies the uninitiated but enthrals those who are better acquainted. It’s also developing as one of the fastest growing sports internationally spreading well beyond its previous base in Britain and its ex-colonies. And there is also a team in the Province of Como – the Cantù Cricket Club.
I recently enjoyed watching the Cantù team beat Jinnah Brescia in the quarter finals of the National Serie B T20 competition. I was delighted to discover such an active cricket club on Como’s doorstep and this prompted me to learn more about both them and the status of cricket in Italy.
Cantù Cricket Club was established in 2015 as a relatively recent member of the Federazione Cricket Italiana. Their founding President was Francesco Moscatelli, a current member of the FCI board and a Cantù resident who works as a journalist for the Turin-based La Stampa group. His role as President of the Cantù team has now passed to his father, Maurizio, who had invited me down to see the team reach the semi-finals. Cantù do not yet have their own home ground and so are obliged to travel down to Settimo Milanese to share the home pitch of the Milan Cricket Club. They returned there on 13th September to face the Kings XI in the semi-finals. However this time they were beaten but the club is now well established and they will undoubtedly achieve further success under their manager and coach, Munir Ahmed.
The first cricket match in Italy was played in 1793 by rival teams of sailors from Admiral Nelson’s fleet which had harboured in Naples. Other teams have been put together over the years promoted by ex-patriot or visiting players from Britain. For a while there was a Lake Como team of expats called The Milan Cricket Club formed in 1972 who played on a pitch at Grandola between Menaggio and Porlezza. This Milan Cricket Club is not to be confused with AC Milan, the famous football club which, when first established in 1899 by two British expats, also incorporated cricket. Nor is it to be confused with the Milan Cricket Club based in Settimo Milanese whose ground Cantù now share. Expats also contributed to one of the more successful Italian clubs in the recent past, Euratom based in Ispra in the Province of Varese. In more recent years, the number of clubs in Italy has increased massively thanks to the arrival of the ‘new Italian’ migrants with links to Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. These players have transformed the game and have, as a result, brought international success to Italy.
One of these early successes was in 2009 when the Under 15 National team, consisting mostly of players with an Asian background, won the European Division 2 championship. They had defeated teams from Belgium, France, Germany, Gibraltar, Israel and Switzerland to arrive in the finals to beat the Isle of Man. Some of those players were struggling to get granted Italian citizenship yet were proud to represent and bring success to their adopted country. Sport at a national level can often get political and no less so in cricket with its heritage of rivalry between colonisers and colonised. Simone Gambino, the President of the Federazione Cricket Italiana back in 2009 made the following statement to the press following the Under 15 team’s victory. “I dedicate this victory to Umberto Bossi [the founder of the Lega Nord, a virulently anti-immigrant political party] because it shows how immigrants don’t just bring problems but also bring glory to Italy. This victory is for those who would not have these boys become Italian. They have shown on the pitch that immigrants are a resource.”
For Simone Gambino, now Honorary President of the FCI, alongside Francesco and Maurizio Moscatelli, cricket is much more than just a game. It is also about social integration and cohesion, and the assertion of those positive values associated with gamesmanship and friendly competition. Above all, cricket demonstrates both locally and nationally that Italy can take pride in and profit from its multi-ethnicity.
The ethos of contemporary cricket in Italy is well illustrated by how the Milan-based Kingsgrove team describe themselves on their Facebook page:
Founded in 2003, the Milan Kingsgrove Cricket Club has as its objectives the formation, promotion and enhancement of the sport of cricket in accordance with the regulations of the Italian Cricket Federation and the Italian Olympic Committee. Cricket, called the “gentlemen’s game” for excellence, is a sport based on positive concepts such as absolute fair play and was able to combat, in Italy and in the world, differences of class, religion and race through the values of civility and fairness not only in sport….. a sport of English origin, cricket is the noble ancestor of baseball and was born in the Middle Ages and is transmitted through the centuries to establish itself today as one of the most popular sports in Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, Denmark, India, Ireland, England, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Zimbabwe. It is the second most played sport in the world and bonds around the same values people from the Anglo-Saxon nations as well as from the Asian subcontinent and is spreading to other European countries due to migration. Born from the ashes of Brera Cricket Club, the winner of the Italian Cup in 2002, Kingsgrove had and still continue to have many of the leading figures of cricket in northern Italy, players of every origin and nationality, so the club has internationalism as one of its characteristics as testimony to the values of civilization and integration related to cricket.
What Is Cricket?
Others can explain the rules of this game better than me but its obvious features are a team game played with bat, ball and wicket. It is similar to baseball but provides more scope for stylistic and technical variety. In recent years matches of limited length (the T20 series) have proved popular but the traditional national ‘test’ matches can be played over five days. Such an extended period of play with the demands it makes on players’ stamina and concentration, introduces a tactical complexity reflecting psychological and environmental sensitivity and technical variety. It was a game originally played in the eighteenth century by British aristocrats with time on their hands which was then exported across an empire to provide a social link between rulers and ruled. This led to many matches becoming proxy contests in these colonies’ development of a national pride and their related struggles for independence.
Cricket in Italy has spread exponentially since the arrival of the new Italians. Francesco Moscatelli’s co-authored book ‘Italian Cricket Club’ and sub-titled ‘Il gioco dei nuovi italiani’, outlines how these new Clubs have been set up by individual ethnic groups from the different regions of Southern Asia to cover most areas of Italy. They have ironically developed a national game to which most Italians are strangers. Cantù Cricket Club’s members are primarily of Pakistani heritage from families who moved over here to work in local industry. They get sponsorship from the local bank and from a local business founded by Pakistani entrepreneurs. Their uniforms reflect their pride in their ethnic heritage as well as their loyalties to their new national home.
The language of cricket was traditionally English but the common language here is definitely Italian. The batsman is ‘il battitore’; the bowler is ‘il lanciatore’; the wicket-keeper is ‘il ricevitore’ and the ball is ‘la pallina’. Nor is English heard on the pitch since it is only Italian that can offer a common language uniting players from different regions who may speak a variety of languages or dialects at home.
Beyond a Boundary
The significance of cricket goes beyond cricket itself. There is an aphorism that goes ‘What can they know of cricket who only cricket know’. It is a game inextricably influenced by its social and political context. The West Indian Marxist intellectual C.L.R. James wrote a great book on cricket entitled ‘Beyond a Boundary’ in which he sought to explain what this social and cultural significance is and how it originates. He stated that ‘cricket is a game of high and difficult technique. If it were not it could not carry the load of social response and implications which it carries.’ Although he was writing at the time of national struggle for independence for many colonies, including his own Trinidad, his analysis still stands the test of time as cricket now spreads itself in a post-colonial period of fresh globalisation. While James recognised that cricket offered a form of outlet for social and political pressures, he saw its primary appeal as being artistic. He says ‘Cricket is first and foremost a dramatic spectacle. It belongs with the theatre , ballet, opera and the dance.’ It contains all the ingredients for continuing national and international growth and success.
For Cantù, they may have lost out in the semi-finals of the T20 competition but lets wish them success in the upcoming Coppa Italia. They are in Group B along with Bergamo, Milan United and Brescia Blasters with their first match away to Bergamo on 26th September. I do hope they continue their success but what would really make a difference is if they could get their own pitch to play on somewhere within the Province of Como. It does not seem right that they have to share facilities as far away as Settimo Milanese.
Italian cricket in general is also making great strides forward and success breeds further success with some foreign players like Nikolai Smith attracted into playing for the national team and able to qualify due to his Italian passport. The major boost to the game in Italy has come from the new Italians and now is the time for them to spread knowledge and interest in the game across the country as a whole. Cantù Cricket Club recently gifted a bat and ball to the ex-Centre Forward of the Italian football team, Christian ‘Bobo the Bomber’ Vieri. Vieri had previously played some cricket as a young boy in Sydney, Australia. He was previously unaware that there was a cricket championship in Italy and is now keen to take up the bat again. The Cantù team took Vieri’s ball down to their semi-final match against Kings XI but unfortunately it did not bring them the good luck they had hoped for on this occasion.
The national team incorporating players captained by Joy Perera and including other new Italians as well as Nikolai Smith and Northamptonshire’s Gareth Berg, have qualified for the next World Cup series but recent matches have all been postponed due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Undoubtedly they and the host of local teams across the country will continue to grow interest in this complex but fascinating sport. In the meantime, it is great to know that we have a local team in the Province of Como, and, once Covid restrictions are lifted, we can all indulge in the pleasures of watching or playing this timeless game.
Beyond a Boundary by C.L.R. James, available in English on Kindle
Italian Cricket Clubs, ‘Il Gioco dei Nuovi Italiani’ by Francesco Moscatelli, Ilario Lombardo and Giacomo Fasola, available in Italian on Kindle
‘Fire in Babylon’ a film by Steven Riley available on Youtube covering the politically charged series of 1976 Test matches played in England against a visiting team from the West Indies. Prior to the start of the series, Tony Gregg, the England captain, had boasted that they would make West Indies ‘grovel’. The West Indies went on to win every game in the series and in the process, established a team under Clive Lloyd’s captaincy which went on to dominate international cricket for the next fifteen years.