A paleontologist on cricket in Newfoundland

We've got airmail

Cricket has repeatedly played cameos in Newfoundland history. This time it's via the lives of an Italian aviator and an English stamp collector

Liam Herringshaw

September 18, 2011

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The Airport Cricket Ground next to St John's airport in Newfoundland, Canada
The Airport Cricket Ground in St John's © Saad Shaifan Ahmed
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If this is a postcard, it needs a stamp. To travel from Newfoundland, it will need to be an airmail stamp. Fortunately this Canadian cricketing missive combines the correct amount of philately with a good dash of transatlantic air speed. And a slightly bemused Italian pilot.

That man is (or was) Francesco de Pinedo. His love - above all other things - was flying. An aviation pioneer, this Neapolitan nobleman made a series of extraordinary flights in the 1920s, including a 34,000-mile trip from Rome to Australia and back, via Japan. As far as records indicate, though, de Pinedo had no interest in cricket.

He might be posthumously startled, therefore, to learn that he is now very popular with the members of Lancashire CCC. He might be even more surprised to learn that it's all thanks to Newfoundland, and some stamps issued by the dominion in 1927.

As the most easterly place in North America, Newfoundland was a pivotal place in those early years of aviation. From Alcock and Brown to Amelia Earhart, numerous transatlantic trippers made full use of its geographic proximity to Europe. But of all those skyscraping journeys, only one helped the upkeep of a Test cricket ground.

That venue is Old Trafford*, and it is reaping the philatelic benefits of a short stop de Pinedo made on his way back from becoming the first foreign pilot to fly to the United States. Refuelling in the village of Trepassey, he was asked to take mail with him back to Europe. When he agreed, a set of special Newfoundland stamps were printed in his name.

More than eight decades later, the last surviving block of four of "De Pinedo Air Mail 60 cents black" was auctioned at Sotheby's last week. It sold for £168,000, and as the owner, the late Lord Steinberg, was an ardent supporter of Lancashire, the proceeds will go towards rebuilding his beloved Old Trafford.

It's all rather topical, really. An aeronautical flavour has been permeating the Cricket Association of Newfoundland and Labrador. Ex-members of the Royal Air Force bolster our numbers; some of them have braved the fly-infested airfields of Labrador just to indulge their love of the game. Then there's our new ground, on the edge of St John's airport.

A sports facility just beyond the end of the runway, RCAF Road has never seen cricket before. Nor have many of the airport's passengers, whose first sight as they come in to land is people with wooden sticks trying to launch a small red ball into the sky towards them. It must be slightly worrying to the nervous or uninitiated. No complaints about mid-air collisions have been made, though, so we're hoping the future of our Airport Cricket Ground will be more auspicious than that of its counterpart in the other St John's.

Controversy thus far has gotten no further than our drop-in pitch. Or should I say, drop-in half-pitch. Donated to the association by a very generous benefactor, the artificial wicket was shipped in from Toronto recently. It turned out to be only 11 yards long, so it has had to be laid out at one end of the wicket, and every match is one-sided.

A Sotheby's brochure displays information on the stamp commemorating Franseco De Pinedo's flight to Northern America and its late owner Lord Steinberg
A Sotheby's brochure displays information about the de Pinedo stamp and its late owner © Sotheby's

Despite this, the Twenty20 Summer League has been a great success. Three XIs took to the skies, and flying highest were the Superkings, who beat the Thunderbolts by two wickets in a thrilling final. The pitch has played so well that a trio of 40-over matches are now scheduled to finish the season, and a good airport crowd is expected. Hangars-on, I expect.

As befitting an airport team, the players of Cricket NL are mostly international, but a few Newfoundlanders are taking part. When it comes to attracting more, it might help that a local remake is being filmed of the Quebecois movie La Grande Séduction. Once Newfoundland cricket is synonymised with a jet-setting Hollywood lifestyle, we'll be up, up and away.

And as we'll find out next time, when it comes to making cricket truly multinational, there's a team of cricketing Quebecois who can teach us a thing or two.

*It should be noted that John Alcock, one half of the duo who flew the first non-stop transatlantic flight, was actually born in the Greater Manchester suburb.

Liam Herringshaw is a medium-paced palaeontologist who moved to Newfoundland from the UK to improve his chances of opening the bowling

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Posted by birdseye on (September 17, 2011, 20:58 GMT)

Feels like home, hearing about cricket in NL :) I am an Indian student in Toronto, but looks like all the action is in NL .....Would be great if I can get the details of where all we have cricket in Canada :)

Posted by   on (September 17, 2011, 15:35 GMT)

Most interesting article. Thanks!

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