Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

I Say, Anyone for a Spot of Cricket?

When a scoreline reads: "Rodyonov, caught Cherkovsky, bowled Duplin, 1", it is clear that no ordinary game of cricket is involved. Indeed, Saturday's match between the Moscow Cricket Club and the Explorers of London was extraordinary for many reasons, not the least of which was the the green pitch at Luzhniki, with the Stalinist university building looming through the typically English weather.


Despite the apparent incongruity of white-clad gentlemen playing cricket in Moscow, it may surprise many to know that the game is not new to Russia. Successive tsars were indoctrinated during visits to England in the 19th century, and Nicholas II became so keen on the sport that he had a pitch laid at the Imperial Palace at Petrodvorets.


Yet these were the first Russians since the 1917 Revolution to enjoy the breathless hush and the thrill of willow on leather. Their pre-match uncertainty was summed up by Sergei Pyatkin, a native Belorussian, who answered a question about his cricketing pedigree by saying: "I'll be OK. Just tell me where to run if I hit the ball".


Vladimir Rodyonov was the epitome of keenness, both in his zealous bowling and in his batting disappointment ("Nado nauchitsya" - I'll have to learn how to do it properly - he said. )


Meanwhile, everything was perfectly set for the first all-Slav encounter -- Pyatkin bowling to the MCC's Vladimir Popov. The burly Belarussian bustled in, the batsman bristled but didn't even deign to unleash a stroke as the ball flew hopelessly wide. Popov went on to score 8 and help Moscow's mainly expatriate side to a respectable total of 112.


The whole venture, of course, took huge amounts of organization. For the chicken drumsticks at lunch, the cake and sandwiches at tea, the genuine equipment, scoreboard numbers and hastily hand-hewn stumps, Moscow's cricketers were indebted to the victorious Explorers and their tireless organizer, Richard Hopeweell.


Hopeweell, a banker who spends half his time in Moscow, coordinated things from the Moscow end, and persuaded his Explorer teammates to take a summer break this year in Moscow.


"When Richard called me back in February, asking me to play cricket", said Explorer Richard Atkinson, the match top scorer, "my first question, as always, was 'Where? '" Though the idea originally sounded preposterous, Atkinson decided to take the opportunity to come and see Moscow for the first time.


"The cricket gives you an added reason for coming here", he said.


You bet it did -- Atkinson clubbed 45, holding the Explorers together before being caught-and-bowled by a certain tireless carthorse medium-pace bowler who is still walking gingerly.


In all fairness, Moscow was probably up against a stronger side, but the batting of James Astor and the three catches of Bill Egerton kept the home side in the game until the very death, when a scampered single gave the Explorers victory.


But what are the chances that cricket will catch on here? Dominic Sanders, the MCC's captain, was quietly confident. "Quite a few people have expressed an interest in getting another game together", he said.


However, Rodyonov was less convinced.


"I don't think it will catch on", he said, adding that six hours would probably be too long for the attention of most Russians.


Yet as the merry crowd sipped Pimms, a string quartet struck up "God Save the Queen", and gallant men in white sang tiredly and happily, it was at least reassuring to know that, even in Moscow, there is a multinational band of men who are prepared to "play up, play up and play the game".