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The cricket team that shoulders a billion hopes? No, we're not talking about India, but cricket's new converts - the Vatican. With ecclesiastical records numbering members of the Catholic church at around 1.2 billion worldwide, the ICC, in their bid to expand the game, would sure welcome the news of the Vatican being interested in cricket.
And that's what it seems to be, with the Pontifical Council for Culture announcing plans to form cricket teams - one for men, made up of priests from around the world, and a women's XI comprising nuns. Australia's ambassador to the Vatican, John McCarthy, a former SCG Trust member, is helping to put the teams together, and hopes to organise a match against a Church of England XI.
Cricket, McCarthy said, was already popular in Rome, with priests and religious arriving there from around the world, and the Vatican's teams would draw on talent from everywhere cricket is played. "Internationally one would have a team representing the Vatican drawn from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Australia, England, New Zealand, South Africa and the West Indies," McCarthy told Vatican Radio. "We are looking for Sri Lankan, Indian or Pakistani sisters who have played cricket and if they are found, they certainly will be invited to join the [women's] cricket team."
Cricket in Pakistan has a history of being tinted by ethnic and religious factors. Nadeem Paracha, in Dawn, presents a chronicle of curious selections, protests and regional rivalries, notably when a 24-year-old was appointed Pakistan captain.
Shortly before the series, Miandad was quoted by the press as saying that the senior players in the team were not co-operating with him. Majid Khan took offense and invited nine players to his home in Lahore and told them that he was going to refuse playing under Miandad. He said that Zaheer [Abbas] had agreed to do the same. The board decided to side with Miandad and he led a brand new team against the Lankans in the first Test of the series at Karachi's National Stadium.
On Thursday, Durham won their third Championship title in 21 years, a victory that was built entirely by players picked from the community. In the Telegraph, Scyld Berry says that the Durham's victory is an example of what can be achieved when new regions are empowered with first-class status. While admitting that the addition of another county may stretch first-class cricket resources too thin, Berry also suggests that the road ahead for English cricket may lie in empowering communities.
I suspect our inner cities contain many cricketers who play below the official radar of premier leagues, or never play formal cricket at all, now or in the past. Not a single England Test player has been born in Wolverhampton, one in Hull, two in Stoke-on-Trent, and one in Liverpool since the nineteenth century.
There needs to be a pathway for inner-city players of all ethnicities, who either have no access to proper cricket facilities or cannot afford to join the few inner-city clubs that exist, with their costly membership and match fees, quite apart from expensive kit.
Australia legspinner, Fawad Ahmed's decision not to wear a beer-company sponsor's logo on his country shirt has sparked off a debate which has quickly moved beyond cricket and to touch upon larger issues of immigration and integration within the Australian society. A few have criticised Ahmed for his decision but as Malcolm Knox points out in the Sydney Morning Herald, the issue is not just about one player but about sport being open to changes within societies and cultures.
Whenever sports try to insulate themselves from change, they self-destruct. So let's imagine that a national symbol, such as the gold shirt Ahmed wears as an Australian one-day cricketer, does not impose a national character. Let's imagine that it's the wearer who changes the character of the shirt. In Ahmed's personal history, is there not the courage and durability we associate with a Hewitt (or a Dawn Fraser, a Herb Elliott, a Dennis Lillee, take your pick)? In his refusal to wear a VB logo, is there not something of that wilfulness that we like to call ''Australian''? In choosing to be here, rather than being born here, has he not already proved something?
Ahmed also finds support from Guardian writer, Joe Gorman who says his decision not wear the logo should be praised if Australia truly values moral conviction.
In an article for Wisden India, Sara Torvalds, a Finland-based cricket fan, recounts a cricket tour that began with a comment to an online over-by-over session, of England's third Test against India in Kolkata, on the Guardian, and ended with three teams on a cricket pitch in Tallinn, Estonia. Along the way, she also shares her evolution from a person who knew nothing about the game to a person who became a Steven Finn supporter 'in a land of Finns'.
It took me more than a year of reading the cricket reports of various British papers. I started following the over-by-over reports on the Guardian's site, and found that the pace of the game opened up for me there. Wikipedia explained words like 'crease' and 'duck', and the various manners you could be 'out' according to the Laws of the game. And then, during England's tour of West Indies in early 2009, I suddenly understood cricket.
"Brilliant. It's utterly brilliant. It's like chess, but with real people," I remember thinking. "And you have to factor in the weather and how the ball behaves in different countries, and the fact that grounds are not uniform in size…" It hadn't been love at first sight, but I was in love now.
At the end of it all, 22-year-old Alby Shale simply collapsed out of exhaustion. He had batted non-stop for 26 hours at The Oval to break a batting world record, and even had the British prime minister David Cameron line up to bowl at him.
Shale, who broke the previous record of 25 hours held by Australian batsman Jade Child, was raising awareness and funds for the Rwanda Cricket Stadium Foundation, which is planning to build a cricket ground in Kigali, Rwanda.
The existing cricket field in Kigali had been the site of a massacre in 1994 and remains were found when the tall grass was mowed to create a pitch in 2002. The idea to raise funds for the cause came from Shale's father, Christopher, who died in July 2011.
An exhausted Shale said: "We've seen first-hand what cricket can bring to a country and we decided. He [his father] said to me there, 'Listen, we need to build a new cricket pitch for Rwanda.'"