Durham's Michael Di Venuto - opening for the Azurri

PUBLISHED: 01:26 28 April 2012 | UPDATED: 21:20 20 February 2013

Durham's Michael Di Venuto - opening for the Azurri

Durham's Michael Di Venuto - opening for the Azurri

Durham's popular run-scorer has been preparing for the new season with a surprising international call-up, as Roger Tames reports

For traditional cricket lovers, somehow the whole concept doesnt seem quite right; pulling on the famous blue shirt of Italy then striding out to open the batting. But for Durhams highly respected Australian international Michael Di Venuto, the chance to play for the cricketing Azurri added an extra dimension to a successful cricketing career.

As an Italian passport holder, he had the birthright. And with around 25,000 first class runs under his belt the 38-year-old from Tasmania certainly brought the very highest pedigree to one of the games emerging nations.

The opportunity for Michael to make his Italy debut came in the recent qualifying competition in the United Arab Emirates where 16 countries battled for the two vacant places to join the big boys at the ICC World Twenty20.

Italy are one of crickets 36 associate member countries ranging from Argentina to Zambia. And for a man who played the first of his nine one-day internationals for Australia 15 years ago, Michael felt perfectly comfortable in the shirt of Italy.

My Dad Enrico is Italian. My grandparents emigrated to Tasmania in 1950, so I certainly feel Italian enough, explains Durhams opening bat, now starting his sixth season in the North East. My older brother Peter had played for Italy ten years ago, so I was really excited to get the chance and proud to pull on that blue shirt. Most of the squad qualified from Australia, South Africa and Sri Lanka so there was some real talent in the side.

Cricket in Italy is just an amateur game with about 100 teams who all play on artificial wickets. But AC Milan were originally formed as a football and cricket club. And theyre just so passionate about their cricket.

Italy managed to beat Oman, the United States and Uganda in their seven-match group. They were finally ranked tenth out of 16 in the competition where Ireland beat Afghanistan in the final with both teams set to appear when England defend their World Twenty20 crown this summer.

Michael has a well deserved reputation in the game not just as a regular run machine but also for his highly professional attitude. An understated, modest character, he doesnt quite seem to fit either national stereotype. But there was no disguising the buzz hed got out of playing cricket for Italy.

We competed well in the first half of the tournament but then fell away rather after that. I was a little disappointed with the way I performed, I got a couple of scores but not what I wanted to achieve. I wanted to win a couple of games for them, but that can be the nature of twenty20 cricket, he said, reflecting on a personal top score of 42 in the competition.

But I really enjoyed the experience. It was tremendous fun. The standard wasnt always that great. But if my involvement has helped raise the profile of Italian cricket in any way, then Im very pleased. And my grandparents were really chuffed.

Now its back to the hard grind of county cricket. With 18 first class centuries for Durham, Michael has been a central figure in the clubs rise to being twice county champions. Even as the teams most senior player, he still has the hunger for more.

This is where I play my proper cricket now as Im just coaching in Tasmania, insists the man from Hobart. Ive got this season left on my contract but Im certainly not looking at it as my last year as a player. Im not here to make up the numbers. I still want to be performing at a high level and setting a good example.

And playing for Italy as well, of course. Its the European championships next.

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The print version of this article appeared in the May 2012 issue of North East Life

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