Frank Worrell’s central role in the transformation of West Indian cricket

“Do they really play cricket there?” This is a common refrain when certain countries are mentioned in the same breath as cricket.

In fact, the list of such countries is long. The International Cricket Council has 12 full members who are eligible to play official Test matches, while there are 96 associate members.

That’s roughly half the number of UN member countries, and leaves plenty of room for a quiz-like answer: “They play cricket there, don’t they?” Saudi Arabia is one such country, Thailand is the other, along with Greece.

I was met with disbelief last week when I talked about how well Italy’s men’s cricket team was doing recently. This came at a time when his football team was knocked out early from the 2024 European Championship.

From June 9 to 16, the Italian men’s national cricket team participated in the 2026 ICC Men’s T20 World Cup sub-regional European Group A qualifying tournament, which featured 10 teams. They were unbeaten in the final and beat Romania by 160 runs. The team will advance to the final stage of European qualification, which will be held in 2025. They are currently ranked 29th in the ICC T20I rankings. Saudi Arabia is 32nd.

Italian cricket looks to be on the rise. It wasn’t always like that. This was written by Simone Gambino, the former president and current honorary president of the Italian Cricket Association, in two books. He wrote a fascinating story, which he kindly summarized for me in English, and it helped a lot with this article.

British merchants and sailors are believed to have introduced cricket to Italian ports in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. There is even mention of Admiral Horatio Nelson, who organized a match in Naples in 1793.

Cricket became popular among the elite in Italy and flourished in the 19th century. In September 1893, a group of British expatriates formed the Genoa Cricket and Athletic Club, football being a secondary consideration.

In 1899, another group of expatriates led by Nottingham’s Herbert Kilpin founded the Milan Foot-ball and Cricket Club, AC Milan, to remind them of home.

This apparent focus on cricket was soon eclipsed by football and later by the rise of fascism. His rejection of all things English except football meant that cricket disappeared and was not reborn until after 1945.

This was carried out by cricket-loving staff from embassies and international organisations. When they suffered downsizing in the late 1970s, Gambino became involved in the running of Italian cricket, having developed a passion for the game through his London-based American grandfather.

On November 26, 1980, he founded the Associazione Italiana Cricket. In 1984, the ICC established subsidiary status, and Italy became the first beneficiary. From then until 1987, the Italian national team participated in four summer tours of London, mostly composed of native players such as Gambino. Three more summer tours took place between 1990 and 1992, featuring an indigenous Italian youth team.

Marylebone Cricket Club’s 1993 tour of Italy raised the profile of Italian cricket. This was followed by a request to elevate Italy to associate membership of the ICC, which was achieved in July 1995. According to Gambino, “this was the beginning of the end of secrecy.” It uses this name because cricket is not officially recognized.

The Comitato Olimpico Nazionale Italiano has ignored the AIC since 1980, but prepared a bid for the 2004 Olympics in Rome. Since the ICC’s associate status also means financial support, suddenly official recognition of cricket is necessary to win English-language votes. The conference of the International Olympic Committee became clear.

Gambino was summoned by CONI and officially recognized on February 28, 1997. The AIC was transformed into the current Federazione Cricket Italiana.

Accession to associate status opened the door to applications from Italian nationals living abroad, mainly from Australia and South Africa, who wish to represent Italy in cricket. They were ineligible under ICC rules at the time. Only birth and residence in the country mattered, not citizenship.

Tensions grew between the FCI and the ICC over this issue, culminating in the 2001 ICC qualification event for the 2003 Cricket World Cup. The ICC has ruled that four Italian nationals are ineligible to stay in Italy.

Gambino withdrew the team from the tournament and formally referred the matter to an independent sports court in Lausanne. The ICC initially accepted it, but then tried to move the arbitration to London. Gambino refused to accept.

He was aware that the ICC had a much bigger problem. He wanted to join the Olympic Committee. This requires adjusting eligibility rules to include citizenship. A compromise prevailed that allowed Italy to withdraw without sanctions, and the ICC agreed to fully review its eligibility rules, which it did.

As a catalyst for change, Italy needed to take advantage. At the time, children of parents from the Indian subcontinent who had emigrated to Italy were barred from playing cricket in the country because they did not have citizenship.

On 7 December 2002, the FCI adopted a rule that all minors wishing to play cricket should be recognized as Italian citizens. CONI initially opposed the decision, but withdrew it after Gambino pointed out that playing cricket was “just as much a civil liberty as going to the theatre, and the parents of these young people are all taxpayers”. It proved to be a controversial topic.

Over the past 20 years, Italy’s men’s and women’s teams have climbed the ICC rankings and the game has spread throughout the country, exposing the lack of proper playing opportunities. Its current men’s national team is a mix of subcontinentals and those with citizenship by descent.

In the second category, the addition of several excellent players changed the results. This includes South African-born Wayne Madsen, who has been playing in the English county league for almost 15 years and has scored more than 15,000 runs. And Joe Burns, who has played 23 times for Australia and is an opening batsman.

There is a fierce battle between ICC associate members to qualify for the World Cup. Italy is making a bold statement with its current strategy. Whether he can join the ranks of countries known for their cricket profusion remains to be seen.

It has a rich, largely unknown and fascinating history to draw from.

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