Rain stops la dolce vita: I volunteered to field in the shallow end. The storm, though, was only pausing for breath

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The Independent Online
I HAVE played Lazio, and lost. Admittedly, it was only Lazio Cricket Club, but as we were battling away against Italy's finest last weekend, our opponents' affiliated team were somewhere nearby, murdering Parma 5-2. Yes, the Captain Scott Invitation XI has been off on its annual tour of alien climes, and this year we took the weather with us.

There we were on the Saturday, right in the middle of Rome's famous Capanelle racecourse, playing the Capanelle Cricket Club on a concrete and matting wicket, when suddenly huge thunderclouds foregathered above us, sweeping away the last vestiges of summer weather and shrouding the whole city in a preternatural murk.

Naturally we knew this was coming, as our team of amateur meteorologists had spent much of the day studying faraway cloud formations and talking ominously of cumulonimbus thunderheads. It was, we agreed sagely, only a matter of time.

We batted first, and were rattling on in a suitably mediocre fashon, until the sky darkened and wickets began to tumble. I myself fell first ball, fooled by a straight one. Two friends I had just been on holiday with were also playing, and we had driven hundreds of miles, and added hundreds of pounds to the cost of our holidays, just to play this game. They lasted one ball and three balls successively.

Then the rain came. We huddled under a tiny straw sunbreak, or 'the pavilion' as we had fondly come to know it. After 20 minutes of this we were all soaked, but then the rain stopped, so we wandered out again.

I volunteered to field in the shallow end. The storm, though, was only pausing for breath. A minute later it bucketed down again, and we all legged it to the changing room. The fire brigade, it turned out, had that morning been placed on flood alert.

An hour or two later, we settled down for a lengthy meal with our thoroughly hospitable opposition, guzzling furiously in the confident knowledge that the Sunday game against Lazio would be called off. On and on the evening went, with one or two changes of location, as bloodstream after bloodstream was poisoned by hideous combinations of drink.

But then, the following morning, disaster struck. As we all awoke, our tongues newly carpeted, our heads filled with quick drying cement, the sun blazed through the shutters of every room in the hotel, and it swiftly became clear that the Lazio game would take place after all. Few of us could stand up, let alone run insouciantly across from cover point to intercept a firmly struck off-drive.

To begin with, though, things didn't go too badly. Lazio inserted us on a drying matting wicket, and after the usual fall of early wickets our tempo began to pick up. Our star batsman, a robust management consultant whose gut is of such size and scope that he is regularly mistaken for God by primitive tribes, became the first batsman in Captain Scott history to throw up at the wicket while making 78. Some team members felt he should have made sure to vomit on a good length, as by now the pitch was beginning to play very easily, but he happily rejected such unsportsmanlike notions. At close of innings, we had scored 167 for 7 off 30 overs.

But Italians bat rather as they drive cars - with superb courage and skill, and no patience whatsoever. If it's up there, they hit it. If it's not up there, they hit it anyway. Unlike most far-flung cricketing outposts, the Italian club system has been set up with a proviso that seven native-born Italians must play in every game. Foreign players aren't even allowed to bowl in tandem, or, unless there's no alternative, bat together. As a result, the Italians don't just make up the numbers - they really can play. They passed our total in the 23rd over.

That evening, we really relaxed, and went on a search for a mythical 'Bar Wembley', where the fabled 'Gasconi' drinks with his chum 'Cinque Pance'. Needless to say we didn't find it, although we found one or two other bars en route, which made for an interesting flight home the following day. And so ended the end-of-season tour, with more than one team member taking a couple of days off work to recover. Never again, everyone cried - at least until next year . . .