TOUR REPORT – Rome, Italy – 4-8 October 2012

By Mark Oppe and Ben Goldschmied

In circa 218 BC the 28 year old, Carthaginian general, Hannibal crossed the Alps with elephants in an attempt to defeat the consuls of Rome. In 2012 AD the 40 year old Kensington Cricket Club crossed the Alps with BA and EasyJet, in an attempt to defeat the cricketers of Rome.

After a gap of 2230 years, would they fare better than their illustrious predecessor?

The advance guard – Sunil Amar, San Gore, Neeraj Nayar, Steve Thomas, Ben Goldschmied, David Behar and Tabrez Khan – landed on the Thursday evening and after a torrid night in a horrid hotel sought out and found new barracks. By midday Friday they had also reconnoitred many of the essential supply depots and watering holes necessary for a successful campaign. By this time General Mark Oppe had arrived from Tunis (the modern Carthage) to take charge. The vanguard of Michael Blumberg, Charles Fellows-Smith (all three of him!) and Bill Rodwell (scorer) straggled in later on Friday having had some difficulty finding the relocated barracks. The battalion was now complete.

As Hannibal, or was it Sun Tzu or even Montgomery said, “Time spent in reconnaissance is seldom wasted”. So, on Friday after a delicious lunch in Rome’s lovely Piazza Navona and some skirmishes around the Pantheon and Piazza di Spagna, Kensington split their resources. On such a campaign thorough preparations for oncoming battle are essential. Neeraj, Steve, Ben and David took instruction by watching an excellent West Indian team annihilate Australia in the World T20 semi final. They were careful to ensure that their fluid levels were topped up by watching undercover in an Irish Pub, round the corner from the Pantheon.

Sunil, San, Michael, Charles and Bill parleyed into the night with the opposition’s legendary general, Alfonso Jayarajah from Sri-Lanka, who showed them some of the Roman trophies from previous campaigns – to shock and awe, we assume.

Sat 6 Oct                            Capannelle – Over 40s                                 Drawn

We    180/7 in 45.5 overs   (S.Thomas 69, T.Khan 26, Blumberg 23, Maggio 2/11)

They  168/8 in 42 overs      (Bonapace 43, Ghulam 31, Weerasinghe 4/12)

The battlefield, in the middle of the race course in the Hippodrome, is 20kms outside Rome and it was here that Kensington met Capannelle “Over 40s” on a warm, sunny October morning. Kensington, like Hannibal, were outnumbered in the field. Hannibal had enlisted Gaulish support and now Kensington enlisted Johan Weerasinghe, son of one of the Capannelle’s players. Johan had been rejected by the home side as too young and was bristling with indignation and hopes of revenge. The battle format was a timed match with 20 overs at two hours before sunset.

Electing to bat, Steve and Ben, Kensington’s most experienced Roman campaigners opened, with Ben falling in the second over, mistiming a lunge and sky-ing an easy catch to mid off. Tabby and Steve consolidated and added 54 before Tabby on 26, was adjudged Greave Before Wicket. San entered the fray but never looked in touch and was bowled for 9. Steve, though wounded, was holding the Kensington batting together. It was one of those battlegrounds on which it was difficult to get started and Neeraj also found it hard to connect but started to move the score along before Steve’s wounds required a runner (Tabby). Predictably this led to a misunderstanding and a furious Steve was run out for a masterful 69 in 74 balls, including three huge 6s and seven 4s. Michael was brought onto the battlefield and he also found it hard to get the bowling away. His resolute defence finally gave way to attack but he was forced to retire, dehydrated, on 23. Neeraj also finished on 23, holing out at long on, whilst trying to increase the run rate. General Oppe selflessly ran himself out at the end and declared on 180/7 in the 46th over.

Capannelle also found it hard to get going against the mature Kensington opening attack of President Sunil and Charles, who bowled three straight maidens at the start, but wickets were hard to come by. After an opening partnership of 57, Kensington at last made the break through, with Ben stumping Perera off David’s bowling. Neeraj bowled the other Capannelle opener with his first delivery and then Hannibal turned to his enlisted help. Young Johan tore through the heart of the Capannelle middle order in an aggressive spell of swing bowling, four clean bowled, including his father. It was left to the veterans of the Capannelle side, Peter Bonapace and Massimo da Costa, to rescue their team from defeat aided by six catches being dropped by the slow-moving elephants on the field. With Peter falling on 43 but still 22 short, Capannelle batted out for a draw in an exciting finish, ending on 168/8 in 42 overs, with General Jayarajah, leading from the rear, not required to bat.. Fittingly, Johan with figures of 4/12 off 6 overs led Kensington from the battlefield.

After a few drinks we staggered off to the changing facilities in the jockey’s room in the Grandstand of the race course. Amongst the colourful silks and various weighing machines, much banter followed from older campaigners, concerning distinctive and inimitable changing facilities at various cricket grounds around the world. It was generally agreed however that the jockey’s room was unique. Most of Kensington had soon sweated down to a competitive weight and Steve, despite his lameness would not have to be destroyed. Now came the time to put the weight back on!!

Roman hospitality was legendary and Capannelle did not hold back. A six course dinner, complemented by copious quantities of good Italian wines, followed in the hospitality area of the Grandstand. An award was made to Alfonso, who was the perfect host and has been instrumental in promoting cricket in Italy. His achievement deserves special respect and through his efforts, Italy has an international cricket standing and is in Division Three of the ICC World Cricket League. Peter Bonapace and Steve justly received the Man of the match awards. Johan was awarded a Kensington cricket shirt and will be most welcome to play for Kensington again. So Hannibal’s first battle had ended in a draw, how would Kensington’s army perform on the Sunday?

Sun 7 Oct                             Capannelle – 1st XI                       Lost by 8 wkts

We    98/10 in 38 overs    (S.Thomas 28, Gore 22, D.Behar 16, Joy Abeden 4/10)

They  99/2 in 17.3 overs   (Ali Ghulam 46*, Hossain 23, Fellows-Smith 2/28)

So, the first day had ended with honours even and we were left looking for Roman omens and portents about our second foray onto the batting-field. What deeds would unfold, which script would be written on the San scrolls the next day? Ah, the beauty of sport, everything is possible before the drama starts.

The entertainment after the first match had been wonderful, we were very, very well fed (of which, more later) and pretty well oiled too. Although moving slower, we were all in great spirits and then you get to start thinking. So what if the average age of tomorrow’s opponents is probably going to be at least half of ours? So what if our most destructive batsman has several injuries? Experience can triumph over youth and Greenidge scored hundreds on one leg.. Surely Dave’ll get a fifty this time as well… We can’t drop that many catches again, can we?.. With our new recruit Johan to bolster the attack.. Just needs a bit of scoreboard pressure, and they will fold.. Yes, if we all play to our full potential, we can win this. Despite all this bravado, there was a little edginess as well. Especially when our elephants turned up missing and we had to return to camp by public transport. No one wanted to admit to these feelings but they spilt out from time to time. Our unflappably cool scorer and Kensington stalwart, Bill, most graphically illustrated this when he became very irate with a metro ticket machine that wouldn’t take his sestertii. There followed a late night council of war at the local watering hole, where everyone had lots of advice for Ben, the new leader. Sadly most of this was conflicting and so the battle plans were not carved in stone. We needed help from above and so made sacrifices of a few more beers to the local Gods before retiring for the night.

At first light, Ben and several of the troops went for a traditional Roman breakfast in an Irish pub. As the day broke, we saw that the Gods, obviously pleased with our sacrifices, had looked on us favourably and provided … Cloud. English conditions for us to play in, we were saved, Victory was assured! The first order of logistics that morning was to organise some more elephants. I must congratulate quartermaster Oppe for sorting out the transport arrangements, which brought us to the ground in plenty of time for donning battledress and perhaps some warming up and practice. Yes, well maybe somewhat optimistic about those last two things but we were all still a little sluggish from the banquet the night before. Then, looking around at our young opponents, realisation dawned on us about the Romans’ devilishly clever strategy; none of them had attended the meal the night before. They were fit, hungry AND they had selected an English bowler, Mike Robbins from Crouch End, to exploit OUR conditions. To cap it all our fantastic new recruit, Johan, was mysteriously unavailable. Never in the history of human conflict had so many supposed advantages been nullified so suddenly and so completely. Hannibal never had to put up with this. We needed a stirring captain’s speech to galvanise and rouse the rabble (i.e., troops) to heroic deeds. Unfortunately, Brearley, Akram, Border and Gavaskar were all unavailable for advice!

And so to the fray, a 40 over affair, no chance of a draw this time. David and San started us off in a calm if somewhat sedate style, both teasing the opening bowlers by playing just inside the line on numerous occasions. In actual fact, the cannon-fire pace of Michele Morettini and the accurate sling-shots of Mike Robbins, were just too good for the batsmen! Dave (16) and Neej (2) were comprehensively castled by Michele. San too was bowled but by a dipping full-toss adjudged by umpire Charles to be an above waist-high no-ball. Tabby (0) was dispatched at the other end trying to slog. Struggling now at 44/3 after 16 overs, we, and not least the story, needed a partnership to revive our flagging fortunes / narrative. Steve-o had come to the crease and despite being unable to run was batting heroically against the new threat of spin from their commander Suresh, while San was continuing in the anchor role. A glorious revival ensued along with thoughts of a competitive total. But a partnership of 32 was ended with San’s gory (sorry) dismissal, holing out in the deep for 22 off 72 balls. Steve ended up with a very creditable 28 off 36, top scoring again but caught off the bowling of another spinner Joy Abeden, who then clinically wrapped up the tail. The last five batsmen contributed just 13 runs, of which our no. 11 Mamun, another recruit who happened to be watching the match, gave us a final flourish making all of 7. We capitulated for a miserable 98 with 2 full overs still left.

But that’s the great thing about cricket; hope springs eternal, especially in this city (ho ho). Could we still triumph against all the odds? Could we?

The answer was an emphatic NO! They reached their target for the loss of only 2 wickets in 17.3 overs. Charles at least managed to take 2 deserved wickets and even more amazingly for our team on this tour actually held a catch for one of them. But the honours went to Capannelle on this day and Hannibal’s army was rebuffed by the modern Romans.

Again we were treated to a feast after the match. Their captain Suresh, who also runs a catering company, provided an amazing series of Sri Lankan delicacies for us to enjoy accompanied by more excellent vino. Michele Morettini was adjudged their man of the match; ours was not claimed! But we kept up the best Kensington traditions of drinking and socialising the fixture back at the bar. We finished that evening in a wonderful restaurant near the Spanish Steps.

Thank you Alfonso, and all at Capannelle, for the wonderful hospitality during the whole tour. It was an epic city to visit and an epic setting to play cricket. Another campaign? But next time with heavier artillery and fewer elephants!

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