It has taken its time, but cricket is making inroads in Italy. Krithika V narrates the rise of the phenomenal Regina Suddahazai Khan and the Italian team.

Italy Women were bowled out for for 42 in the first match of the Women’s World Cup European Division 2 Qualifiers against Jersey Women. They lost that match by seven wickets.

At that point, few had expected them to qualify for the Division 1 Qualifiers, but Italy bounced back to win four matches on the trot to finish second on the points table.

The Jersey match also marked the T20I debut of teenager Regina Suddahazai Khan, who ended as Italy’s leading wicket-taker with seven wickets. “The climate conditions in Jersey were completely different from Italy, and the players weren’t used to it,” she would later admit.

[caption id=”attachment_302469″ align=”aligncenter” width=”650″]Regina Suddahazai Khan Regina Suddahazai Khan. Courtesy: Regina Suddahazai Khan[/caption]

The Italians were affected by the cold, and most of them ran temperatures: “It was difficult, but we had to give it all. During the match against Sweden, our wicketkeeper was badly ill and couldn’t get out of her bed. We were short of a keeper at that time.”

Either Emilia Bartram or Regina had to keep wicket for the game: “We looked at each other, and Emilia felt that I was bowling well, and so she wanted me to continue bowling while she would keep wickets. Of course, she was not bad on her international keeping debut.”

Regina comes from a cricket family, and the sport came naturally to her – though she had originally taken it up as a hobby: “I grew up in the USA and England. Cricket runs in our family. Everyone played cricket. When I was younger, my dad actually managed the USA cricket team [2009 and 2010]. While growing up, my father used to tell me the coolest stories about the game, how young Kieron Pollard and young Chris Gayle used to play there. Stories like that.”

Regina made it to the Sussex U12s, and currently plays for the Sussex U18s team: “I started playing in 2012 in England when I was seven and my brother was five. I joined a cricket club, played a game and really liked it. I continued playing in boys’ cricket before attending trials for the Sussex U12 girls’ team. I got in, and through pathways, I got to play in the U18 Sussex team.”

Regina looked up to Sussex captain Georgia Adams, who had coached Regina’s brother when he was in school: “Today, I get to share the pitch with some of the legends of England cricket, like Georgia Adams and Linsey Smith, to name a few. I never thought I could do that.”

Cricket is one of the oldest sports in Italy. In fact, ICC had recognised them as the first ever Affiliate member, in 1984. Federazione Cricket Italiana was set up in 1997.

In 2001, a domestic tournament was announced for women. The tournament ran for two years, was abandoned, and resumed in 2009. At one point, it boasted as many as seven teams, but the numbers began to reduce over the years until it was completely stopped in 2017.

Three years later, in 2020, the Italy cricket association announced Italy Women’s League, with two groups, each consisting of three teams.

The tournament had to wait until 2021 Spring due to the COVID-19 lockdown. The final, streamed live on European Cricket Network’s YouTube channel, was the first ever women’s domestic match in Italy to be thus covered.

In July, Italy announced a tri-series. However, Jersey could travel because of COVID-19 restrictions, so Italy had to be content with a bilateral series against Austria.

After the domestic tournament, they conducted a camp for 20 cricketers. Under the guidance of national coach Royce Daniel, they played trial matches between North vs South, based on which 13 cricketers were picked.

On August 9, Italy Women won their debut match by eight wickets, thanks to captain Kumudu Peddrick’s unbeaten 47, but lost the five-match T20I series 2-3. Italy then toured Austria in 2022, where the team had a clean sweep.

The team has played 19 T20Is and has lost only four matches so far. Three of their loss came against Austria in their debut series and one against Jersey recently.

“Match practice and regular camps have made the difference,” says Regina. She also insists that match practice could make them an even better team in the upcoming future.

She was not part of Italy’s first ever team, and until last year, she did not even know that she could play for them: “I was playing a local game in Sussex with men. My mother was the scorer. One of the players in the opponent team was practising the Italian language. Later, when my mother introduced herself as an Italian, the cricketer asked if I was her daughter and if I would be interested in representing the team.”

Regina accepted the offer and joined the Italy camp last year: “The cricket is so much different here. In places like England, it is more of a competition, but here, the cricketers love to play with more freedom. This is a talented bunch, and if given more practice, they can beat big teams soon.”

[caption id=”attachment_302467″ align=”aligncenter” width=”650″]Italy Women Italy Women. Courtesy: Regina Suddahazai Khan[/caption]

In February, Italy became one of the teams to participate in the first ever ECN T10 tournament for Women, along with the Netherlands, Gibraltar and Sweden. The ECN T10 was the first ever women’s tournament to be played under the lights in Gibraltar: it was live-streamed with multiple cameras.

Regina’s first ever match for Italy came during this competition. On debut, against Gibraltar, she ended with 4-1 including a hat-trick. She ended as the leading wicket-taker of the tournament and helped Italy to reach the final, where they lost to the Netherlands by 62 runs.

“ECN T10 was a fun competition. The rule was pretty simple. For batters, it was about hitting every ball, and for bowlers, it was targeting the stumps,” reminisced Regina.

Despite making her international debut, Regina is yet to play Italy’s domestic league games. The league is likely to happen before the start of the European Qualifier Division 1: “We will head to the camp soon, and I think we will play a domestic tournament before that.”

Spain will host the Women’s T20 World Cup Europe Qualifier Division 1, with France, Italy, Netherlands and Scotland as the other participants. The top two teams will make it to the 2024 ICC Women’s T20 World Cup Qualifier, where they will take on Ireland, Sri Lanka and six other teams through regional qualifiers.