On one side, an old portrait of Queen Elizabeth II hangs on a wall. Opposite is a bar serving warm ale. The clubhouse of the Clube Atlético São Paulo in Santo Amaro, known to all as SPAC, is a world of high tea and good chaps, and an outpost for expats. But things are changing. São Paulo’s cricket team trains twice a month here, and the sound of leather on willow is developing a distinctly Brazilian accent. That old game of the British Empire – cricket – is beginning to produce local talent.
From a side made up purely of expat bankers and diplomats a few years ago, the man behind the stumps now – and the opening batsman – is paulistano Guilherme Lefévre. He’s been voted best wicket-keeper in the Americas for the last three years running. The national team has the continent’s best fast bowler, too, in Rudyard Hartmann, who was only introduced to the sport in 2005. He captains the first-ever all-Brazilian team, the Candangos, who play in Brasília.
It's cricket – but not as you know it
Every kid in Brazil has, at least once in their life, played a similar bat-and-ball game calledtaco or bete. But it’s just not cricket. Matt Featherstone, a former county player for Kent (‘but I was very average’) and now CEO of the national Brazilian team, has been key in changing all that.
‘When we go to schools, we introduce the game as taco, because the kids know what that is. The rules are very similar, apart from underarm bowling and that the wicket can be just a can of Coke. They ask, “What’s cricket?”, and we say, “You’re playing it,”’ says Featherstone. ‘When I moved to Brazil in 2000, it was just expats playing expats and they would come and go. In 2001, the International Cricket Council asked us if we would like to affiliate, but to do that we needed to get more organised and not play just every few months. We had to get a league going, play twice a month.’
The Associação Brasileira de Cricket (ABC) was founded in 2001 and recognised by the sports ministry in 2008. ‘By 2006, we could field a national team and we became part of the Americas World Division Three, competing officially for the first time in Surinam. The ICC gives everyone a road to the world cup, all 105 member countries,’ explains Featherstone.
The team competed again in Argentina in 2008, Chile in 2009 and the Bahamas in 2010. ‘We are still desperately trying to open the game up to Brazilians, but it’s a slow process. We have four development officers nationally who teach one day a week,’ he says.
Brazil is not likely to thrash the West Indies just yet, but they know an LBW from a BMW. A women’s team was set up in 2007, and cricket is going to be reintroduced as an Olympic sport, but not in time for Rio 2016. This month sees the highlight of the cricketing year in Brazil, the 20/20 tournament. Joining São Paulo, Brasília and Curitiba for the first time will be a new team from Rio – thanks to the success of beach cricket – in the annual round robin competition.
'Sao Paulo have won the last four years so we will be hoping to make it a fifth year running,’ says Featherstone. Howzat!
For more information or to get involved, see brasilcricket.org.