By Charles Randall
19 October 2015
The Vatican cricket team took on their first all-muslim opponents when Mount CC, from Batley, visited Rome last Saturday, 17 October, and a narrow home victory formed only part of the greater picture as Pope Francis's bridge-building continued.
St Peter's CC, the Vatican's cricket name, completed their inaugural season in 2014 with a tour of England, culminating with a match at the County Ground in Canterbury, a defeat by the Church of England. A return this year has been fixed in Rome for 24 October. The Vatican has made no secret of a desire to meet muslim sides, developing friendships and understanding so that perhaps one day there could be a showpiece match in the Middle East or even the cricket hotbed of Pakistan.
Mount – not to be confused with the Essex club of the same name in Rayleigh - lost their T20 game at the Capanelle ground by four runs off the last possible ball in a desperately exciting finish, having required six runs off the last two balls with one wicket left, chasing the Vatican total of 104. Events in the Rome sunshine lived up to all expectation.
Judging from Twitter, excitement had been building up at the Mount for weeks before the trip. With help from the ECB and the Yorkshire county club, the players were supplied with smart new cricket clothing and kit, with added back-up for the club. The match party landed in Rome on Thursday for a schedule that included a tour of St Peter's Basilica and the Vatican museums, a formal dinner for the two teams and mass at the Vatican.
Hanif Mayet, Mount's chairman and founder, said: “The hospitality has been outstanding, and it is such an honour to be here.” He disclosed that their request in August for a game had received a positive response from the Vatican “almost immediately” and he added that bringing his club to play in Rome was “a dream come true”. The people of Staincliffe would probably regard the honour as just reward for a man who had made a big difference to his local community.
Mayet and Farid Karolia, both keen cricketers, started a club at Mount Pleasant in 1976 in frustration with the way aspiring asian players were treated in those days, entering the strong Dewsbury & District League as one of the very few asian clubs. They had to use old cricket balls and second-hand gear, renting sub-standard facilities – two players were hit in the eye during those formative years – but the club reached new heights in the Central Yorkshire League after a move to Staincliffe Park.
These days, after year's of hard work and fund-raising, the Mount's objective with Mayet still at the helm is to provide up-to-date cricket facilities and coaching for all sections of the community from the age of five, hoping to “keep local young people motivated and occupied”.
Perhaps controversially from a muslim point of view, Mount have started cricket training for girls. Abeda Rajpura, patron of the women's section, said: “Women playing cricket is not common in our society, but we are training girls and we hope one day to have a girls team that could play at the Vatican.”
The last word on the Rome match came from John McCarthy, Australian Ambassador to the Holy See and founder of the Vatican cricket section. He said the Mount game had met all his expectations and all his hopes about what could be done through interfaith and ecumenical sports associations. It was a pity that the scheduled match against Caacupe de la Villa, from Argentina, a few days earlier had had to be cancelled. Caacupe, a cricket club from an impoverished area of the pontiff’s home city of Buenos Aires, pulled out through lack of funding.