A change of roles for Joe Scuderi
Italian cricket reached the end of an era last week with the retirement of long-serving captain, Australian-born Joe Scuderi, who played his last game as his side went down to World Cricket League Division 4 champions Afghanistan in Dar es Salaam.
‘My career was always going to continue until the WCL campaign ended,' Scuderi said at the weekend, ‘but I turn 40 in December, and you can't just keep going for ever.
‘It's partly about maintaining your own standards, and it's better to stop while you can still perform at a level you're satisfied with.'
Scuderi's twenty-year senior career included 82 first-class matches for South Australia and Lancashire, in which he made 3372 runs at 30.10, including three centuries, and took 179 wickets.
He represented Italy in five European Championships, the 2005 WCL qualifying series in Malaysia, and two World Cricket League tournaments, in Darwin and Dar es Salaam.
But the end of Scuderi the player will not terminate his involvement with Italian cricket: he will take over as technical director, working for 70-80 days between March and October each year.
There is certain to be a period of rebuilding – Andrea Corbellari, Samantha Ketipe and Nicola Puccio have also announced their retirement – and Scuderi will be closely involved in that process.
‘We don't have a major international tournament until 2010,' Scuderi says, ‘so there's time to reshape the squad.
‘One of my priorities will be creating an Italy A side, giving us a chance to look at emerging players and the players themselves the opportunity to play in good, testing fixtures, preferably on turf pitches.'
For Scuderi, the key age group is the 18 to 23 year olds, although he believes that an A side also needs the experience of players who have played in full internationals in the past.
‘There's plenty of talent coming through,' he says, mentioning players like Luis di Giglio, Dylan Sarnelli and Alessandro Merlo. The latter two were in the Italian under-17 side which this season reached the final of the European Division 2 championship for their age group.
But he also believes that expatriates will continue to play a significant role in the international side.
‘It would be different if we weren't in the WCL Division 4 and the European Division 1,' he says, ‘but we are, and staying there has to be a priority. It's important for lifting the profile of the sport in Italy, and that's the key to expanding the game.'
Looking back, it's clearly the team's achievements which give Scuderi the greatest satisfaction.
‘Beating the ECB at the 1998 European Championships to make sure of a place in Division 1 gave me a real buzz,' he says. ‘That was a defining moment – we'd been the whipping boys up till then, but since then we've proved that on our day we can cut it at the top Associate level.
‘We've beaten The Netherlands twice, for example, and although we're not yet consistent at that level, we've shown that we have the skill and the character. Even though we lost to them, we made Ireland and Scotland work hard for their victories against us.'
If the 84 not out which set up Italy's win over the Dutch at this year's European Championship was to be Scuderi's last major international innings, the not-out, 31-ball 44 which he contributed as his side reached 318 for five against Fiji in Dar es Salaam reminded anyone who saw it just how good a player he still was.
And the professionalism of his approach is evident in the way he talks about the importance of good planning for Italy's success.
‘We make sure we get there early,' he points out, ‘and play at least one warm-up game before a tournament begins. That's how we were able to beat The Netherlands – both times, it was the opening game of the competition.
‘And travelling with our own physio has been a key step – we'd never be able to get through a week-long tournament without him. He keeps 'em on the field.
‘Some people don't understand the degree of intensity that's involved in playing modern top cricket. That's something we have to get across if Associates cricket is to progress further.'