From the MCC to the Holy See - the Catholic Church’s ultimate umpire has formed his own cricket team.
Tea and cucumber sandwiches were served on Tuesday at the Vatican at the launch of St Peter’s Cricket Club, which aims to bring the eternal game to the Eternal City.
Australia’s ambassador to the Holy See, John McCarthy, has been the driving force behind a new competition bringing together Indian, British, Irish and Australian priests.
He said Pope Francis was “aware” of cricket because he’d seen it played in colleges in Argentina.
The tournament will begin with an inter-college tournaments for priests and seminarians in Rome, but the ultimate aim is to field an international team.
"The team will be strong enough to beat anyone in the world," Father Theodore Mascarenhas, an Indian priest and a mean off-spin bowler, who is the chairman of the new St Peter's Cricket Club, told AFP.
The club will play in the yellow and white Vatican colours, with the keys of St Peter their emblem.
Msgr Mechor Sanchez de Toca, head of the sports department at the Pontifical Council for Culture, told Vatican Radio that sports have an important place in millions of peoples' daily lives.
“This phenomenon deserved our particular study,” he said. “Sports are a powerful means to convey values, attitudes, a moral and ethical message."
Rome's Capannelle Cricket Club is letting the Vatican use its pitch, and McCarthy said anonymous donors would cover equipment, organisational and other related costs.
Adam Chadwick, curator of collections at Lord's Cricket Ground in London, which prides itself as the home of the sport, welcomed the initiative and seemed open to a Vatican-Church of England match played on one of its pitches in the upscale St. Johns Wood section of the capital.
In a phone interview, Chadwick said the image of cricket — of men in white playing on country estates with ideas of chivalry and gentlemanly behavior dictating their play— date from the Victorian era of the late 19th century, but that cricket's origins are very different and far more popular.
"The first mentions that we found in this country are just an ordinary man (playing) when he would have been at church on Sunday — which is a bit ironic, actually," he said with a laugh.
Cricket's enormous appeal in places like India, once part of the British empire, is actually much more in line with the game's more popular origins, he said.
Indeed, in keeping with Pope Francis' aim for the church to reach out to the poorest, the Vatican made clear that its cricket club wasn't thinking of English high society but rather the sport's appeal with the masses.
But it’s yet to be seen whether they’ll walk if the umpire fails to give them out.
With AFP and AP