On a concrete playground in a poor Brazilian mountain neighborhood, excited children chase the ball at high speed. But in an unusual scene for a football-crazy country, they are indifferent to nearby goal posts instead of swinging cricket bats and fielding. Welcome to Pocos de Caldas, a city of 170,000 people that is the capital of the fascinating narcissistic struggle to turn the land of Pele and Neymar into a passionate cricketing nation. Denying stereotypes, Brazil is emerging as a force to be reckoned with in cricket, especially the women’s national team, which was awarded professional contracts in 2020 – making the country the first country in the world. Made his women’s team better than the men’s.
Most players have learned the game from the 63 community youth programs run by the Cricket Brazil organization, headed by former professional cricketer Matt Federstone, an Englishman who married a Brazilian and moved here two decades ago.
“My wife thinks I’m crazy,” said Federstone, 51, of trying to persuade Brazilians to play cricket.
But her charisma and community spirit have transformed Pocos de Caldas, a small spa center, located in the green mountains of the southeastern coffee country, in which Mayor Sergio Azuido is proud to be “Brazil’s only city. That’s where more kids play cricket than football. “
Cricket, samba style
When Federstone moved to Brazil in 2000, he tried to spread his love of cricket in private schools, but soon realized that he was interested in rugby, hockey, wrestling and “everything else you can imagine.” Are competing with.
But in poorer neighborhoods, where the options were “football or soccer”, he discovered that families were happy with a new sports program.
Unlike England, where cricket is sometimes seen as a game for rich men, “we have a blank piece of paper here so we can invent our own cricket culture,” he says.
Women’s team captain Roberta Morty Avery remembers his first reaction to watching cricket on TV.
“It wasn’t the best impression,” says the 36-year-old, laughing.
“I didn’t understand, I just saw all these people dressed in white. And it seemed like it would last forever.”
But she noticed that the game was similar to the Brazilian street game she liked, called “bat” or “taco”.
The story is that Brazilian slaves invented the game, playing with brooms for bats and bottles for wickets. Cricket played by the British was brought in to build Brazil’s railroad in the 19th century.
Morty Avery says cricket’s enthusiasm and openness won him over.
Brazil has put its stamp on cricket. The women’s team plays Brazilian funk during practice, preferring loud parties on the ground over samba, and tea and cucumber sandwiches before matches.
Morty Avery says, “The way cricket was developed here was really great. We’ve made it fun.
Spreading the horizon
Pocos de Caldas has more than 5,000 cricketers, thanks to community projects launched in 2009.
Cricket Brazil wants to reach 30,000 and spread to other cities.
Some are winning international recognition.
In October, 16-year-old all-rounder Laura Cardoso made headlines around the world, which a sportswriter hailed as a “miracle” performance as Brazil won by five wickets off six balls in the final over. Dramatic one-run victory over Canada in T20 World Cup qualifiers.
It was a feat never seen before in the Women’s T20 International.
Featherstone says Cardoso, a natural athlete with a powerful compact body, could become one of the best athletes in the world, returning from a period of professional playing in Dubai.
The young trend, now 17, drives it all.
“Oh my God, what did I do to get here?” She says with a laugh near the national team training center donated by the city government.
Brazil’s women are currently ranked 28th in the T20 International rankings, and that is a big goal.
He has won four of the last five South American Championships.
And successfully receives cash from the International Cricket Council and sponsors.
Cricket Brazil’s annual budget has grown from about $ 5,000 a decade ago to $ 350,000, enabling the organization to launch a trainee coaching program and send promising talent to the university.
Cricket is changing the lives of players like 20-year-old Lindsay Mariano.
“Before I played, I didn’t even have a passport,” she says, taking a break from training for the national team’s upcoming tour of Africa.
“Now, thanks to cricket, I have traveled all over the world.”
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