Cricket is more than football
In a cement yard in the humble community of Pocos de Caldas in Minas Gerais, a group of children run at full speed after a ball. But cricket is the ubiquitous football and national match. The mining town of 170,000 inhabitants became the capital of the game, which was also made in the Queen’s country. Contrary to all predictions, Brazil has become an emerging cricketing power, especially for its national team, which signed the agreement in 2020, becoming the first country to professionalize women before men. Most of its players learned to play in one of 63 youth events hosted by Cricket Brazil, chaired by former professional player Matt Featherstone, an Englishman who married a Brazilian who came to the country 20 years ago. “My wife thinks I’m crazy” to teach Brazilians cricket, comedian Featherstone, 51, is still an athlete with a contagious enthusiasm. His charisma has transformed Poços de Caldas, a coffee town, which Mayor Sergio Azevedo is proud to call “the only city in Brazil where young people play more cricket than football.”
Featherstone initially tried to express his love for cricket in a private school, but there he competed in rugby, hockey, sailing and “whatever you can imagine,” he said. In poorer neighborhoods, by contrast, where the alternative is “football or soccer”, he discovered families who were willing to welcome the new game. Unlike England, where cricket is usually played by men in a high society. “Here we have a blank sheet of paper that we want,” he says. Women’s team captain Roberta Moretti remembers the moment of the discovery of cricket on Avery TV. “I didn’t understand the rules, I just saw there were a lot of people wearing white and it lasted a long time,” Avery, 36, recalls. But at the same time, it reminds him of a Brazilian street game known as “bat” or “taco”. History says that the game was invented by Brazilian slaves with broom sticks and bottles, the British came to Brazil in the 19th century to build a railway to play cricket. Cricket Brazil’s enthusiasm and openness ultimately convinces Avery. “The way it was applied here for the Brazilians was great, it was a very fun way,” Avery said. During practice, the Brazilian team likes to play funk and samba before the match and have tea with cucumber sandwiches in the evening.
Made by those who have learned to work
In a workshop with stunning views over mountains in southeastern Brazil, self-taught carpenter Luiz Roberto sculpted a piece of Francisco Pine, making it a rare item in the country: a cricket bat. Francisco, 63, is the proud owner of Brazil’s first cricket bat factory, located in the town of Pocos de Caldas in Minas Gerais. Not coincidentally, the city is home to Cricket Brazil, an organization led by former English professional cricketer Matt Featherstone, which has set an ambitious goal of getting 30,000 Brazilians to play the game of their choice over the next three years. Currently, 5,000 people are trained mainly in the organization’s youth program, which is also the birthplace of the women’s team. However, with the advent of the epidemic all plans were scrapped, spreading rumors about cricket without an important element of the sport: the bat. Then came Francisco, a retired electrician at the local aluminum plant in Alcoa, known in Pocos de Caldas as a skilled hammer and intelligent problem solver. The shepherd followed him. “He (Matt) told me he needed someone to make the taco, and asked me, ‘Do you accept the challenge?'” Francisco recalls. “I replied: ‘I admit it!'”.
Courage and YouTube
Francisco says he has never held a cricket bat in his life, but he used a combination of YouTube tutorials, trials and errors and daring to turn his workshop into his new company Royal Bats. First, Francisco learned that he needed to apply two tons of pressure to the wood to achieve the right density. “There was no machine in Brazil to do this,” said the carpenter. “So I tried a few different things and finally came up with one.” Francisco wasn’t sure what kind of local wood would work best for making cricket bats. To solve the problem, he started collecting the found scrap and branches. After months of trying, he and Cricket decided to plant Brazil pine. Francisco can now make a bat in about five hours. Each of them costs about 100 races, about 70 times less than the premium tacos imported from England made from willow. As cricket culture spreads across Brazil, Francisco has expanded its product line. It now forms the game’s dartboard, known as the wicket, and folds the cricket chair.
Francisco wasn’t sure what kind of local wood would work best for making cricket bats. Various materials tested and selected for pine Photo: Carl de Souza / AFP / CP
Some players have achieved international fame, such as Laura Cardoso, who, at just 16 years old, lost five opponents in the last six launches against Canada during World Cup qualifiers. Such a feat has never been achieved in the International Women’s Twenty20 Tournament. New from the professional experience in Dubai, Cardoso could become one of the best in the world, Featherstone said. But the young prodigy, now 17, takes it easy. “Damn, what have I done to deserve to be here?”, He says with a smile, near the team’s training center, donated by the municipal government. The Brazilian women’s team, currently 28th in the T20 International rankings, wants more after four wins in the last five South American Championships where only a few countries participate. Successfully, the money came from the International Cricket Council and sponsors. Cricket Brazil’s annual budget has increased from about $ 5,000 a decade ago to $ 350,000, allowing the company to launch a coaching program and send promising young people to university. The lives of some players, such as 20-year-old Lindsay Mariano Villas-Bose, have changed. “I didn’t have a passport before the game,” he said, taking a break from training for the Brazil team’s next tour of Africa, but now “I’ve traveled a lot for cricket.”
Cricket has allowed players like 20-year-old Lindsay Mariano Villas Bose to travel to different countries with the Brazilian national team. Photo: Carl de Souza / AFP / CP