Features FeaturesRSS FeedFeeds

Brazilians play cricket too

In the football-mad country, cricket has gained a small foothold. And the best thing is, it's not being played only by expats

Toby Chasseaud

April 7, 2012

Comments: 16 | Text size: A | A

A club game progresses in Curitiba, Brazil, 2012
A club game between Swadisht and Gralha Azul in Curitiba, Brazil © Juliana Silva
Enlarge
Related Links
Features : The view from the bottom
Teams: Brazil

Garrincha, Pelé, Sócrates, Ronaldo, Rudy Hartmann. Haven't heard of the last one? He's the fastest bowler in Brazil. Although better known for its football, Brazil is quietly experiencing a revolution in a sport the country is not normally associated with. In the past decade, its men's and women's sides have achieved ICC affiliation and competed against rivals across the Americas.

The game still has great barriers to overcome, including a struggle for funding and for attention in a country where it is soccer that is hardwired into the national consciousness. Although cricket was first introduced to Brazil in the mid-1800s, long before football, it never caught on in the same way. But while most Brazilians have not grown up with cricket, they have played a game descended from it. Taco, played by children in the streets, is two-a-side, with a bowler and wicketkeeper against two batters, who run between the wickets (there are no boundaries).

The batters use a stick to defend a small wicket. Bowling is underarm, but as in cricket, batters can be bowled, run out and stumped - as Prince Harry recently found out the hard way. The prince was visiting a favela in Rio, called Complexo do Alemão, where members of Cricket Brasil and the fledgling Carioca CC were teaching children the basics of cricket. When the kids played their more familiar taco with Harry, he survived seven balls before being stumped by the keeper. Although standing in his crease, Harry had not grounded his bat, thus falling victim to another difference between the two games.

"It was hilarious to watch," says Matt Featherstone, captain of the Brazil men's side. "Before he knew it, this kid was grabbing the bat from his hands, telling him he was out. There was no deference to the third in line to the British throne."

Featherstone's role in Brazilian cricket epitomises the transition being made as expat players bring on a new generation of homegrown talent. Born in Bromley, he played for the Kent Second XI and England Amateurs before moving to Minas Gerais with his Brazilian wife. His side have just returned triumphant from the Amistad Cup, a three-match Twenty20 series against Peru. After losing their first game, Brazil recovered to win the final two. In his three innings, the captain scored 0, 68 not out, and 68 respectively.

But despite being national captain, Featherstone is essentially an amateur. He works for his wife's family's chain of gift shops, and living in the small town of Poços de Caldas means that even to play his club cricket he has to drive three hours to São Paulo. "I'm lucky my wife lets me spend as much time as I do on the game," he says.

When Featherstone moved to Brazil in 2000, he was unaware cricket even existed in the country. But there it was, and he was soon in the national side. Although the team was not recognised by the ICC, it played unofficial international matches in the South American Championship, and Featherstone was able to use his batting ability and his contacts to take Brazilian cricket forward.

Brazil became an ICC affiliate member in 2002, and in 2006 they qualified to join the ICC Americas Championship, with Featherstone as captain. In recent years they have alternated between Division 3, which includes Peru, Chile, Costa Rica, Mexico and the Falklands, and Division 2, with Argentina, Panama, the Bahamas, and the Turks and Caicos Islands. They are currently back in Division 3, "which is probably our level to be honest - Div 2 is a big jump up", Featherstone says. But perhaps ten years down the line, "it is not inconceivable that we could find ourselves playing in a Twenty20 World Cup. We're on the up but it's a slow process".

Cricket Brasil is battling to overcome obvious challenges. Money is tight. The ICC pays for entry into tournaments and provides $25,000 a year in direct funding, which goes towards Brazil's only full-time officer, Vincent Bastick, the CEO, and helps pay expenses for three others, including Featherstone in his role as national development officer. "In reality I only get petrol money," he says. "There is not enough cash to do what we do, and it is difficult to gain sponsorship in a country where 99% of the population haven't heard of the game." He is thankful for the sponsors they do have, though, including HSBC and Indian sugar company Renuka.


Prince Harry plays taco, a Brazilian version of cricket, with local kids
Prince Harry plays cricket with Brazilian kids © Getty Images
Enlarge

Featherstone says a major stumbling block to the game's development is that the ICC has not applied for cricket to become an Olympic sport, largely because of opposition from Test-playing nations. "These countries have such a packed international schedule already that they are reluctant to give up a few weeks every four years for the Olympics. But 90% of cricketing nations would benefit from being in the Olympics. If we were in the 2016 Olympics in Rio, we'd be able to secure funding from the government and it would be a showcase for cricket in Brazil. But as things stand, the earliest cricket could be entered as an Olympic sport is 2024. We've missed the boat and it's a big shame. The ICC could do more for Affiliate nations."

At 41, Featherstone is probably one of the oldest captains in international cricket. So how long will he carry on? "Hopefully not much longer. If I could stop playing for Brazil now, I would. But the team still relies on me for runs. I'd rather play a match with a weaker team than with a stronger one totally dominated by expats."

In a recent ICC tournament in Suriname, nine players out of the 14-man squad were born in Brazil. And in an international competition in Nassau, the Bahamas, in 2010, Brazilian players were voted best bowler (Rudy Hartmann), best fielder (the wicketkeeper Guilherme Leferve) and best batsman (Gregor Caisley). Of them, only the last, an Australian, is an expat. "And we didn't even win a game," chuckles Featherstone.

With the game now entering schools, Cricket Brasil is hoping for a homegrown generation of players to represent their country. Junior development programmes have been established in São Paulo, Brasília and Curitiba. And Brazil has joined forces with Peru, Chile and Argentina to establish Cricket South America and host tournaments at the Under-13, 15 and 19 age groups, thus creating opportunities for youngsters to play internationally. "What is great is when you can take successful Brazilian cricketers into schools and show the kids what they can do," says Featherstone. "It's fine for me to go there, speaking Portuguese in an English accent, but to them I'm still a gringo."

While Brazilian men's cricket has claimed its place on the world stage in recent years, the women's side has emerged at breakneck speed. Unlike the men's game, their squad is already made up 100% of players who were born in the country, although again with a helping hand from expats.

Bastick is manager of the Brazil women's national side, based in Brasília. An Australian by birth, he married a Brazilian (a recurring theme here) and moved to her home country in 2004. Having played cricket in Sydney in the 1970s - "I was probably a B-grader" - he, along with Cricket Brasil president Ian Webster, became instrumental in establishing women's cricket in Brazil through his contacts at the University of Brasília. A major breakthrough came when cricket became an accredited PE course and students took to it with enthusiasm.

Bastick says what happened in Brasília was unique. "The nucleus of the women's team was formed in 2007. The women came from sports they were already very successful at. There were several handball players, including two goalies, so we had a readymade wicketkeeper. There were twins who were expert kayakers, and there was a ballerina. There were also futevôlei [foot volley] players - like volleyball but you use any part of your body, except your hands - although unfortunately we lost them when they went on to pursue successful futevôlei careers."

There are two women's teams in Brasília, the Candangos and Brasília CC, and they play each other and against men's teams. The best players can then go on to represent Brazil. In 2007, Brazil played in the first women's international clash in South America, taking on Argentina in a three-match series, which they lost 2-1. It was a promising start and they have never looked back. In last year's South American Championship, played in Brasília, they came second, behind Argentina, but ahead of Chile and Peru.

When I speak to Bastick, his side is preparing to take part in the women's ICC Americas Championship in the Cayman Islands. There, from April 22 to April 29, they will play the likes of the USA, Canada, Bermuda and the hosts. The team trains four times a week in the run-up to the competition, which is difficult considering all have jobs, studies and/or children. Another obstacle is the weather. "It's the rainy season, so we have lots of interruptions," says Bastick.

As well as the Clube Nipo baseball ground in Brasília, the women sometimes play on the main esplanada, flanked by government ministries. For a wicket, they lay out a long carpet over an asphalt pathway. "It makes a pretty good playing surface," says Bastick.

He says the challenge in the next few years is to get U-13 and U-15 girls playing in competitions. As administrator of Cricket Brasil, he draws a modest salary from the ICC but also runs an English language school. Like Featherstone, Bastick says he would be happy to take a step back from the game and hand over responsibility to homegrown coaches.

I ask if it is a problem that Brazilians have no exposure to cricket through television, but he says it isn't. "What you lack in television coverage here, you make up for in technological advances. Want to learn to play the cover drive? Just type it into YouTube.

"We mainly play 20-over matches, but sometimes 40 overs to give the batters a chance to score a hundred, which isn't easy in the shorter game. However, it's difficult to sell the longer format to a nation brought up on 90-minute football matches."

While more homegrown cricketers are getting involved, it is difficult to ignore the influence of expats, particularly at club level. I visit Curitiba, where I meet Norman Baldwin, 52, vice-president of the Brazilian Cricket Association and the backbone of cricket in Paraná state. Baldwin learned his cricket in Vancouver but has lived in Brazil for 17 years. The HSBC ground just outside Curitiba, which has hosted both men's and women's international games, favours batting. It has a reliable artificial wicket, good sightscreens and short boundaries square of the wicket.


The Brazil squad to face Peru in the Amistad Cup, 2012
The Brazil squad that beat Peru 2-1 in the Amistad Cup
Enlarge

There are now two teams in Curitiba, who play each other on a regular basis. Swadisht (meaning "tasty" in Hindi) is an Indian XI, and Gralha Azul is a Rest of the World XI. On the day I visit, the team is composed of five Brazilians, three Englishmen, a Pakistani, a South African and a Canadian (Baldwin).

I ask each of the Brazilians whether they prefer cricket or football. All say football. One of them, Marco Johnson, who has represented Brazil at rugby, shows particular promise with the bat. Another, Raphael *Chiappetti, is playing his first match but already seems to have a basic grasp of the game's complexities. In this particular match, Swadisht hit 182 in their 20 overs, while Gralha Azul finish short on 163.

Four states in Brazil play cricket: Paraná, São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and the federal district of Brasília. At the moment São Paulo and Brasília have the strongest set-ups. Although a Rio Cricket Club was founded in 1872, the game died out there for 15 years until being revived in September 2011, with the formation of Carioca CC. Baldwin attributes the decline in Rio cricket to economic circumstances. But with Brazil's economy now firmly on the rise, workers from cricketing nations are returning in increasing numbers and Carioca CC are trying to establish a home after the original Rio Cricket Club rented its pitches out to football.

So while soccer continues to dominate sporting life in Brazil, the seeds have been planted for another beautiful game to take hold in the country. Let us hope, for the sake of world cricket, they are given every chance to grow.

*10:40:21 GMT, 8 April 2012: Corrected from "Chiapelli"

Toby Chasseaud is a freelance journalist and cricket enthusiast

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by Atleticano on (April 8, 2012, 23:37 GMT)

Regarding the post about Brazil's captain, Matt Featherstone has been captain of Brazil since December of 2000. Due to injury, he missed the ICC Div. 2 tournament in the Bahamas in February 2010, when long-standing vice-captain Greigor Caisley took over. Matt returned to the captaincy for the ICC Div. 2 tournament in Suriname in April 2011, and most recently for the Amistad Cup, held in Lima, Peru in March of this year.

Posted by   on (April 8, 2012, 13:56 GMT)

Greigor Caisley is Brazil's captain i think

Posted by niyasindian on (April 8, 2012, 12:47 GMT)

nice article... its necessary to promote associate and affiliate countries by icc.. but unfortunately they r not doing enough ...

Posted by VivGilchrist on (April 8, 2012, 12:23 GMT)

The ICC seem so short sited. Olympics would have been brilliant, but being a Commonwealth sport, the Commonwealth Games is a must.

Posted by Romenevans on (April 8, 2012, 4:12 GMT)

India's tour to Brazil, India's Tour to Argentina. Wow that sounds awesome! I hope we won't be white washed there 4-0 too :( LOL!

Posted by   on (April 8, 2012, 4:02 GMT)

Always nice to read the articles like that. These countries will add more color to the game. Wouldn't it be nice to see next Sachin or Murali coming from Brazil...:)...Hope that ICC looks at the development of cricket of these nations. All these countries deserve to have the full exposure to the wonderful game.

Posted by diddles on (April 8, 2012, 0:13 GMT)

Great to see how cricket is progressing in Brazil and in other South American countries like Argentina, Chile, Peru and Surinam.As a former Aussie player in Chile, it should be noted the good work being done by the British and Australian expatriates in development activities, including seeking to really engage the locals in representative teams.

A problem amongst many, but not all Sub-Continent cricket lovers, is their less than enthusiastic willingness to share their love of cricket amongst local cricket communties, by taking a back step sometimes to allow more opportunites for the local players. Look at Canada, USA, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, and the Middle Eastern national teams, and the lack of representative players from the broader population of each of these countries....teams dominated almost totally, if not completely by sub'continetal players...such teams consequently look very artificial, not truly representative of their particular nation.

Posted by   on (April 7, 2012, 15:29 GMT)

fantastic.......... we in near future that india tour 2 brazil ..

Posted by   on (April 7, 2012, 14:00 GMT)

hope more countries catch up thick and fast as cricket needs more end more nations to generate more anthusiasm and energy to this beautiful game.

Posted by HLANGL on (April 7, 2012, 9:28 GMT)

@dragon_fire on (April 07 2012, 03:28 AM GMT): Sócrates was a former Brazillian footballer who died only very recently.

Comments have now been closed for this article

FeedbackTop
Email Feedback Print
Share
E-mail
Feedback
Print

Hangovers and headaches

2014 in review: Embarrassing defeats, a beleaguered captain, a bitter former star, alienating administrators - England's year was gloomy. By George Dobell

Ten years later

Gallery: Efforts by Surrey have helped transform a coastal village in Sri Lanka devastated by the December 26 tsunami

    'We did not drop a single catch in 1971'

Couch Talk: Former India captain Ajit Wadekar recalls the dream tours of West Indies and England, and coaching India

Sachin to bat for life, Lara for the joy of batting

Modern Masters: Rahul Dravid and Sanjay Manjrekar discuss the impact of Lara's batting

I bowled to them, look where they are now

Roger Sawh: Ever get the feeling you're sharing in the success of a top-level cricketer you may have played with growing up?

News | Features Last 7 days

Watson's merry-go-round decade

In January 2005, Shane Watson made his Test debut. What does he have to show for a decade in the game?

Why punish the West Indies players when the administration is to blame?

As ever, the West Indies board has taken the short-term view and removed supposedly troublesome players instead of recognising its own incompetence

Power to Smithy, trouble for Dhoni

Australia's new captain admirably turned things around for his side in Brisbane, leading in more departments than one

India's attack: rare intensity before regular inanity

For the first hour on day three, despite the heat and the largely unhelpful pitch, India's fast bowlers showed a level of intensity and penetration rarely seen from them; in the second hour, things mostly reverted to type

Bowlers in waiting

Bowlers who have been around for plenty of time but haven't played in cricket's biggest show

News | Features Last 7 days