Historic day in Rome as Vatican bouncers leave tourists without a prayer
Cricket history was made last week. Yes, I know England hosted Ireland at Lord's for the first time and yes, that is a landmark of sorts. But the truly historic event took place much further afield, on a dry, dusty pitch on the outskirts of Rome under the blazing heat of an Italian sun.
While the national team represented Ireland at the home of cricket, a group of middle-aged men in varying stages of decrepitude also represented their country in the first match between an Irish XI and the Vatican.
England v Ireland at Lord's was an incremental kind of milestone - after all, the teams had met many times before; it was the venue that was significant this time - but St Peter's CC v the Herald Taverners was a sporting and diplomatic, not to mention medical, breakthrough.
The Vatican XI is part of the Catholic church's Pontifical Council for Culture, and has been touring and playing as part of a wider programme to promote inter-faith dialogue. The team is managed by an Irish priest, Fr Eamonn O'Higgins, who is in charge of spiritual formation at Rome's Maria Mater Ecclesiae college, and its players are drawn from the college's Sri Lankan, Indian and Pakistani students.
The Herald Taverners, meanwhile, are an eclectic group of journalists, film people, academics and social misfits, most of whom worked for Independent News and Media at some stage in their careers. We were not as religiously homogenous as the Vatican XI: we included Catholics, Anglicans, atheists and a Buddhist priest among our number.
The match took place at the grounds of Capannelle Cricket Club on the southern outskirts of the Eternal City. It was a Twenty 20 match played on a lively artificial wicket. By the end of it, even the agnostic Herald men were turning to prayer.
Representatives of the Church of Rome tend to move, in public at any rate, with a reverence for ceremony and a consciousness of their own dignity. Rituals are carried out with a slow deliberation. That all changes once they get onto a cricket pitch.
Togged out in a crisp blue team strip bearing the crossed keys insignia of the Papal State, they were young, fit and very skilled. Every ball was on the stumps, every throw came in over the wicket, every chance was caught. The Herald batted first and reached 75 at the end of their 20 overs; 28 of those came from a player 'borrowed' from the Capannelle club.
It was trial by fire, with fast out-swingers, in-swinging yorkers, even bouncers fired down at the Herald men. They defended their stumps with a reckless bravery, but courage is no substitute for technique. It was men against boys, and the boys won.
It took a mere seven overs for the Vatican XI to pass our total. Two wickets fell, both taken by our 'borrowed' player. Our wicketkeeper, who works as a psychotherapist, was in much demand from traumatised Herald men at the close of play.
Fr O'Higgins said a few words over our grave. We had made history, he said. The worst team ever to visit Italy? The biggest winning margin by St Peter's? The most one-sided T20 match on record? "The first ever team from Ireland to play the Vatican," he announced.
The Herald men glanced at one another. Smiles spread among the team, some of whom still have their own teeth. We had joined the immortals of the game.
- Dave Robbins is skipper of the Herald Taverners cricket team and a former Irish Independent journalist.
Sunday Indo Sport