By Annie Chave
If you want an easy example of how free to air television can make a difference to the visibility of cricket then you don’t have to look much further than the incredible rise to fame of Romanian cricketer, Pavel Florin. He became an overnight internet sensation in July, when the European Cricket League was broadcast by the Sports Channel Network. Florin’s Cluj Cricket Club were playing French side Drexel, and his unusual bowling action caught the eye of viewers around the world, provoking a deluge of mockery, which modulated into patronisation, and stayed there. That in itself isn’t surprising – in the social media world every keyboard warrior is a critic and an expert – but what was unusual was Florin’s reaction to this barrage. He showed a defiance that sprang from his genuine passion to improve his own game, and that passion has become so infectious that it has spread across the internet like a virus. He has been quoted as saying, “Maybe someone says my bowling is not beautiful or not effective, but I don’t care because I love cricket”, and he means it. Having spoken to him, I know he does.
When I contacted Pavel, on the offchance that he would be willing to talk to me, his response was “anything is possible”. This, I was soon to discover, is his mantra, and appropriate as a sentiment if he is to achieve what he has set out to do; to teach his country “what cricket is”.
Speaking from his apartment in Romania, Pavel said that he’s become quite used to being asked both questions and his views on the game. He remains both relaxed about and dismissive of his newly found fame. The non-stop messaging on his phone is ignored with a sang froid that comes from a genuine sense of detachment; he’s not bothered with his fame because the attention is largely irrelevant to the job he has to do. His much-publicised trip to England, where he was invited into the President’s Box at Lord’s and interviewed on Test Match Special, was “a great experience”, he told me, “but it doesn’t help cricket in Romania”. “Here, I’m alone, I need to show what cricket is.” He isn’t a celebrity in Romania – he’s a night-club bouncer and a sport junkie – but he’s taken on a mission, and luckily for the game worldwide, it’s all about cricket, and only cricket.
Pavel came late to the game, beginning at thirty-two when most careers are winding down. An obsessive sportsman, he had played American Football and – in a national league team – Futsal. Now, though, his interest in cricket is “a story that everyone knows”. “I saw it being played in the park, and asked to join in. I am big and they [the group of Indian cricketers] were small … I could hit it hard and they flattered me, telling me that I could go far and be captain of Romania. I liked the lie”. He laughs, and admits that they chose the right person to engage and flatter because, like Hans Christian Anderson’s little match girl, he took the spark they offered him and lit all of his matches to make his dream come true.
Pavel joined his local team, and, for six years spent most of the time fielding because “they wouldn’t let me bowl”. It was his determination to improve that won his teammates over, and he became not only a bowler but President of his club. Now, at the positively veteran age of forty, he plays for the Romanian national team. “There are six cricket teams in Romania”, he tells me, but his club is composed of thirteen Indians, one Pakistani, one Englishman and him. Cricket remains very much a minority pursuit and hasn’t filtered down to his fellow countrymen and women yet. It’s similar in many European countries, where expats from more traditional cricketing countries make up a large proportion of most teams, but Romania is a somewhat extreme case. Pavel tells me that he knows of only ten Romanians who do play in the whole country. No wonder: “ it’s not easy”, he explains, “I have nowhere close to train, my ground is 500km away.” He takes this journey with his team three times a week just to practise. It is time consuming and financially draining too. “There is no sponsor”, Pavel says, “I have to pay for my kit, my equipment and all my travel. My team play twenty matches and there are around five international games”. It is easy to see that, to survive let alone to succeed, there must be a real commitment to the sport and an unparalleled drive.
It is when he pans his phone around his room that the huge gulf in the status of an ‘international cricketer’ in Romania and one in England is at its most evident. Piled around Pavel’s small apartment is a choice array of cricket equipment that he’s been sent by well-wishers. For him there’s no clubhouse containing the bats, pads and various items of kit, they fill his room. He has no one to care for them or to transport them for him. The gifts are precious to him though; there’s the promise of a future with every item he’s sent, and he is determined to make good use of them all.
Pavel’s stardom saw him initially inundated with offers from those eager to capitalise on his fame, with “agents offering me advice on making money”, but “they weren’t interested in cricket”, he laments, “it’s the little people that make me famous, not the ones that want to make money and not the ones that make fun of my bowling and then don’t have time to help. I’m not stupid; why do you think I bowl this way?” It’s a question I can’t answer, but his explanation is fascinating and shows a sophistication that he’s not been credited with. “I do it because people don’t hit sixes off me.”
I ask him why cricket, and he quickly responds “I love all sport”, but when I ask him why cricket his answer is considered and to the point, “Because sport is adrenaline-based, and in something like football there is no time to think, but in cricket you pause and make decisions.” This, he says, “is adrenaline-pumping”.
The Pavel Florin story is best read in a global context. He doesn’t care about either the accolades or the criticisms that have come his way. He’s not playing for the connoisseur, he’s playing for the love of cricket and it is that and that alone which drives him. “One day I want to be the President of the Cricket Federation”, he says, and it has to be said that he’s made a start towards achieving the unachievable. “I have plans to talk to the council about finding a ground to play cricket on”, he says. “I will make my country see cricket”. As a cricket-loving nation, we should surely be encouraging him because, if cricket is to grow, it needs to move beyond its existing boundaries, and encouraging interest in a nation like Romania thanks to Pavel Florin’s new found fame is an opportunity that should not be missed.
You can follow Annie on Twitter: @AnnieChave