HomeCricketWhen state cricketer Ben Manenti got a national call-up for Italy, he...

When state cricketer Ben Manenti got a national call-up for Italy, he ‘thought it was a p***-take’


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Two years ago, Australian-born cricketer Ben Manenti was called up by his country – but the country in question wasn’t his native home.

Instead, it was Italy that was interested in Manenti’s skills with bat and ball.

“I thought it was a piss-take and a muck-around actually, so I didn’t make much of it,” Ben said of the initial phone call.

Harry Manenti bowling for Italy during a T20 World Cup qualifier.(Supplied)

“[It’s] very different, standing there singing a national anthem that you don’t really know.”

The South Australian Redbacks all-rounder is eligible thanks to his Italian grandparents, as is his younger brother Harry.

Harry plays for the Redbacks’ second XI and in Adelaide’s A-grade club competition.

Both brothers have an Italian passport and were open to the experiment, travelling abroad to join the national side’s push to make the 2024 T20 World Cup.

“Most people wouldn’t think that there’s actually grounds, or that people play, in Italy,” Harry said.

“Now I think, ‘How cool would it be to play in Italy, how cool would it be to get a turf ground there where we can actually play … in high-level cricket?’

“A lot of the boys joke about playing at the Colosseum.”

‘One win away from the World Cup’

According to the International Cricket Council, cricket in Italy dates back at least 230 years.

In 1793, British admiral and naval hero Horatio Nelson organised the first-ever recorded game in Naples, but it was not until 1984 that Italy was recognised as an ICC affiliate member.

The current team includes homegrown talent as well as eligible players from around the world, including Australia, England, India and South Africa.

13 men stand on grass wearing blue pants and shirts

Ben and Harry Manenti stand for the national anthem with their Italian teammates.(Supplied)

The Manenti brothers were part of the side that went down to Ireland by just seven runs in last year’s T20 World Cup qualifiers in Europe, narrowly missing out on qualification for the 2024 tournament.

The brothers plan to return to the side later this year when qualifiers begin for the 2026 tournament, and want to help the side to one day compete with powerhouses of the sport.

For them, playing for Italy has nothing to do with its novelty value, nor is it about making up the numbers.

“Everyone probably said the same thing about Ireland and Scotland five or six years ago too, [and] we were one win away from being in the World Cup this year,” Ben said. 

“We were closer than a lot of people would probably understand or give us credit for, but it’s not going to happen overnight.”

Ben Manenti bowling for the Italian cricket team.

Ben Manenti bowling for the Italian cricket team.(Supplied)

Harry admits the national team needs more funding if it’s to keep improving and eventually take on the heavyweights of the sport, such as India, Australia and England.

But, in order to get more funding, the team needs to win more tournaments.

“Probably what we need in Italy is that support from bigger bodies to get us to move up the ranks,” Harry said.

“At the moment, we’re going tournament by tournament and hopefully, in a year or two, we’re going again and trying to beat Ireland or Scotland — or whoever it may be — to try and be in that next World Cup.”

Former Aussie opener could also play

The Manenti brothers are far from the only products of Australia’s playing fields to have been summoned by Italian selectors.

Left-arm speedster Spencer Johnson, who is a dual citizen, was close to joining the Italian squad last year before he was called up for Australia.

“He was poached by the Aussies unfortunately,” Harry joked.

“We had lined him up and we were pretty keen to have him running in for us, but he’s done really well over the last 12 to 18 months and playing for Australia is probably his dream.

“We would’ve like to have him for a tournament or two before he did bigger things.”

Australian cricketers Spencer Johnson and Joe Burns

Australian cricketers Spencer Johnson and Joe Burns.(AAP: Dave Hunt/Darren England)

But Harry’s also hoping that other Australian cricketers — including a former Test opener — might also feature in Italy’s next World Cup qualifiers in June.

“There’s others — I mean Joe Burns. There’s players over in England playing county cricket, there’s some big names who do have Italian blood,” Harry said.

Harry and Ben hope to convince others with Italian heritage to join and get swept up in the experience.

Several current Australian first-class cricketers have Italian ancestry, and Australia has, over the decades, produced an impressive list of players of partly Italian lineage — including Sir Donald Bradman.

One of the Don’s great-grandfathers, Emanuel Danero, was born in Genoa and migrated to Australia in 1826.

“I think there’s something in the blood where you just get passionate about playing for them,” Harry said.

“[We] want to win games and … hopefully finish in a World Cup.”

Both brothers would love to still be playing when Brisbane hosts the Olympics in 2032 — but the path to Italian cricket glory could also pass through Los Angeles, where the sport will appear for the first time at the Games in 2028.

“It’s not going to happen overnight, it’ll chip away and be a bit of a longer road,” Ben said.

“But I think there definitely are bigger things coming.”

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