Heading out on the bike, down the road past the university and onto the avenue leading to the sea, you reach a point where a byroad heads off around the eastern edge of the wooded area which gets its name from the prevalence of pine trees there. At the top of this shady way there is a patch of grassy land, a cricket pitch. Spacious enough, if hardly taxing for the lusty hitter, and flattish with a slight rise from its bottom left corner to the top right. The view of that area remains partially hidden by houses as you approach the ground from the centre of town. The wicket – there is no square as such – is central, following the diagonal of the slight hill, meaning many runs are scored in the wide arc between a very fine fine leg and a wide third man. The field is embellished to one side by a tumbledown stone building of indeterminate function.
The ground’s dimensions are certainly not perfect but then this is a facility for an amateur match, a village match, so the slightly shambolic nature of its presentation can be forgiven to a degree. Naturally anyone who plays here talks about the slope but mainly about the terrain itself which is uneven and, in the summer months, dreadfully dry.
You enter by a gate across the road from which is a scrubby patch of land dotted with trees, natural spaces for a few players and spectators to park their cars, further down the road there is an another clearing, more spacious, potentially acting as an overflow. In this clearing one can often see middle-aged woman of various ethnicities but similar profession, with, tellingly, the stone wall at the back knocked through, leading to a dense and pathless part of the woods. Some of the women sit on plastic chairs, others stroll around in their heels and handbags, and others still often simply emerge from the long grass on the other side of the road. On that side there are a number of buildings behind barbed wire fences, guarded by dogs which bound up to the wire when you pass, often barking loudly. People using this overflow facility naturally leave their vehicles at their own risk .
The stone building serves as the pavilion after some refurbishment and rebuilding. One problem is the power cable slung low across the patch of land directly over the pavilion, not interfering so much with the playing area, but a potential hazard given its position more or less behind the bowler’s arm. The position of the wicket means that a straight hit is likely to crash at a flat trajectory into the dangling cable.
We repair for refreshments after the activity. In May, when the season starts, the stabilimenti along the riviera are already doing a fairly brisk trade as the locals don their Spring jackets and stroll the day away, stopping for coffee and gelati. An agreement is made with one of these establishments – a friend of a colleague knows the owner – and after the match we all head down the road, taking our cars which we park with difficulty along the crowded narrow road running straight for many miles down the length of the coast all the way from Francavilla to Montesilvano. We sit at one table, the twenty or so players and participants, and are served insalata di mare, calamari fritti and spaghetti alla vongole, with bottles of still and sparkling water and a few litres of white wine in proportionally placed glass jugs.
The physical descriptions and people and animals mentioned in the above piece are all very real. It is ultimately a piece of whimsy which serves as a suitable introduction to this blog, one that is not intended to provide any searing strategical insights into the game, bombard the reader with stats or delve into the murky world of institutional policy-making. I’ve lived in Italy for nearly nine years and so my view of cricket has become abstract, limited, literally, to tiny screens embedded within another screen and welcome bursts of radio commentary.
Cricket is played here, of course, and as the recent ICC World Cricket League demonstrates, to a pretty good level. One of the eventual aims of this blog will hopefully be to get more of a direct perspective on the nature of the game here even though I am situated some way south of what could be regarded as the nucleus of cricket in Italy, the administrative centre based in Turin.
As the blog progresses I will focus on a few recurring themes, still to be finalised, whilst writing what I hope is something of an alternative view of cricket. If anyone of you who end up reading this blog have any suggestions please feel free to let me know, using the usual procedures.