The carpet has been rolled out, the beers are ice-cold, caipirinhas are being mixed and the afternoon breeze carries the smell of barbecue under the warm midday sun. In this perfect setting, 11 men, dressed in white, walk on to a field. They are followed by two more, padded up and wielding heavy-looking bats. The men prepare to play cricket in a very foreign land—Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the home of football and samba.
Cricket was first played in Rio in the 1860s, by British settlers. The Rio Cricket Club was formed in 1872, and renamed Rio Cricket and Athletic Association in 1897. The game was played regularly in Rio till the decline of the British population in the coastal city saw the club shut down in the 1980s.
It was reintroduced in 2011, when a group of expats formed the Carioca Cricket Club to ensure they got a regular dose of the game. “Five Britons, including a diplomat, Nick Gibson, in a bar in Copacabana on a warm night on 13 September, 2011, decided to form the club to bring together all those who wanted to play cricket. A lot of people joined the club when it was formed, but they keep moving away due to their jobs,” says Felipe Lima de Melo, a Brazilian and the only non-expat in the club, who was appointed vice-president in July. British lawyer Craig Allison, the current president, has been around since the club’s inception.
“There are people from all over the cricket-playing world here. The English, the Australians, the Canadians, the Sri Lankans, the Indians and the Pakistanis,” says Marcus Chalmers, a member of the club. He moved to Rio in mid-2015.
When he started following the Twenty20 (T20) World Cup online, he found himself “reinvigorated with cricket” and felt like playing the gentleman’s game. So he searched the Internet and came across the Carioca Cricket Club.
“I made contact with the club and they were going to play the Brazilian national championship in a couple of weeks. I asked if I could play and they said, ‘Sure, come on down.’ So after 10 years of not having played any cricket, I was playing in the national championship in Brazil,” says
Chalmers, a former banker who now teaches English in Rio.
The championship was fun—five teams, from São Paulo, Curitiba, Brasilia and Rio de Janeiro, played T20 games. A team from São Paulo, made up predominantly of players from India and Pakistan, won the title.
Brazil also has a national cricket board, the Associação Brasiliera de Cricket (Brazilian Cricket Association), and has been an affiliate member of the International Cricket Council since 2003.
The Carioca Cricket Club was formed in November 2011—and De Melo discovered it three months later. “Since then I have never stopped playing cricket,” he says. The math teacher bowls off-spin and loves slipping in googlies to batsmen.
Chalmers, a bowler who likens himself to former Kiwi medium pacer Gavin Larsen, says: “He (De Melo) is absolutely fantastic. A great lover of sport and so enthusiastic about cricket…not the most talented player, but enthusiastic nonetheless.”
The club members get together once a month at a polo club and roll out some grass, or a mat, to make up the 22-yard wicket—they play all formats of the game, generally T20, all day. The 60-70 members take the game pretty seriously.
The members get a monthly email informing them about the next game; they have to confirm attendance. The club also organizes social evenings where members meet up for things other than cricket, like a quiz or a “curry night”.
“It is very social…. We see each other from time to time…. It doesn’t have to be cricket necessarily,” says Chalmers.
A typical day of cricket starts with a bus picking up the players from a central location and taking them to the Polo Club. The game is followed by a “fine” session, a fun tradition of sorts. One player is fined (punished), as long as a majority of the members present that day agree upon his fault. And they always do.
Chalmers was fined at the last session in July for wearing a bee-keeper’s hat. The player who is fined has to drink beer. But here’s the catch: He has to drink it from a box (an abdomen guard) that has been used by a batsman that day.
After this ritual, the players head back to the bus, which is loaded up with more beer, and they have a party on the way home.
The cricketers’ uniforms are sponsored by a Brazilian soap manufacturer, Granado. The club is supported by Rio Times, a local English news website. The cricket gear—bats, pads, gloves—come from abroad.
“Whenever someone travels to a cricket-playing country, we place our orders with them,” says Chalmers.
It’s their jobs that brought most of the club members to Brazil. Many of them work in the oil and gas sector, and many of them have Brazilian spouses.
“There is a saying that if you come to Brazil as a single, you will leave married, and if you are already married, you will leave remarried to a Brazilian,” quips Chalmers. The 34-year-old Kiwi is married to a Brazilian.