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Cricket is taking root in Italy, thanks to immigrants

Published: Saturday, August 30, 2008, 15:13 [IST]
 
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London/Rome: Believe it or not, football-mad Italians have taken a fancy to the sport of cricket.

According to The Guardian, the game though baffling to most Italians, is becoming one of the country's fastest-growing sports thanks to a wave of immigration from India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Around 20,000 people from the Indian subcontinent are regularly putting down stumps and padding up in Italy's parks, creating a groundswell of cricket that now sustains 33 teams in a three-division national league.

The paper quoted Simone Gambino, the head of the Italian Cricket Federation, as saying that there are some real quality players moving up from the parks into the league and national side.

"There are around 100,000 people from the subcontinent in the province of Brescia, and they want to play cricket, so the council had to provide pitches to stop people being struck by cricket balls," she said.

One player aiming to push Italy into the big league of cricket is Gayashan Munasinghe, 21, who starred in the side that beat rivals Netherlands in the European Cricket Championship in Dublin this summer.

"I struggled to fit in when I arrived but I am now proud to represent Italy," said Munasinghe, whose father, a Colombo policeman, is now a pastry cook in Rome.

Munasinghe qualified for Italy under rules allowing long-term foreign residents on to the side, and is now preparing for qualifying games in Tanzania for the cricket World Cup.

But on spare Sundays he heads to an unused football pitch on the outskirts of Naples, paying €10 (£8) to join scores of other Sri Lankan immigrants in fast and furious one-day competitions. The dozen or so six-man teams, which travel from as far as Milan, play knock-out matches of five overs in a party atmosphere for a team prize of €1,000.

Cricket made its first appearance in Italy in 1793, played by Nelson''s sailors after they landed in Naples, before British traders set up the Genoa Cricket and Football Club in 1893, an organisation that soon dropped the cricket and now plays its football in the Serie A league.

Expatriate embassy teams in Rome revived the game in the 1960s, with strict rules on the minimum number of Italians per team to help boost the game among the locals.

To this day, Italy''s top division requires a quota of Italians, which has helped homegrown players enter the national team, but two lower divisions are now allowed to field all-immigrant teams, which have formed along ethnic lines with names like Latina Lanka and Banglancona. The question is whether rising stars such as Munasinghe can win over a wider audience to the game.

A few more victories at international level might help the situation, or at least improve its coverage, said Leandro Jayarajah, who plays with the Capannelle club in Rome.


ANI

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