It all started in July of 2019 when a broad-shouldered native Romanian hailing from a region known to most as a fictional vampire haven burst on to everyone’s phone screens. It was Day 2 of the ho-hum yet inspiring tournament that goes by the name of the European Cricket League (ECL) featuring local European clubs that locked horns for the throne of Europe’s best.
French team Dreux and Romanian side Cluj Cricket Club clashed in a group stage encounter with the former cruising at 5/140 at the end of the 8th over. Out was called Dracula’s countryman, a nightclub bodyguard by the name of Pavel Florin with the daunting task of putting a halt to the opposition’s free flow of runs.
The imposing Romanian, as confident as a juror about to give a verdict, scuttled his way for what you may call a run-up and with a crooked front on action lobbed the ball ever so slowly into the sky like a grenade, only to have it land a few feet ahead of the batsman. Benevolent would it be to call the ball ‘well flighted’.
Nonetheless, Florin’s over went for runs far lesser than the number of eyebrows his action had raised. 13 to be precise, at a point where the batting side were meandering at 17.5 runs per over!
The rest was done by the internet which its notoriously good at doing. It swept away the context, leaving the subject of the video without either defense or explanation and boy did cricket lovers feast in the ‘delight’.
The first wave of antiphon was marked by scorn and disdain. He was ridiculed for his bowling action, mocked for his lack of textbook skills. Yet, those who dared mock were quickly shut down and given a reality check as the Romanian with a heart for sports finally got to explain himself.
“When I bowl I see the ball going and taking a wicket. It is not beautiful, I know, everybody says, but I am a slow bowler. Is there a problem with this? I think no. Maybe someone says my bowling is not beautiful or not effective. I don’t care. I love cricket,” expounded Florin.
It was 2012-13 when the fire of cricket set ablaze in his heart. Florin who had already been an American football player as well as a Futsal player, a national award-winning one too by the way, first got to have a go at cricket when some of his Indian friends were playing it.
With a tone of interest, he asked the lads if he could face a few balls to which they complied. “You’re a very good player Florin. You’re a future Romanian National Team captain”, flattered his mates with a sarcastic undertone. Not like Pavel didn’t understand or see right through their lies, but he liked the lie and he chose to stick to cricket.
“I play many sports, but I remained in cricket because this sport is for me. This is the sport for me.”, he assured.
The lengths he had gone just to play and expand a sport that is hardly even the last thing in his countrymen or his government’s mind is nothing short of extraordinary and awe-inspiring. He had to drive 500 kilometers from his home to the nearest namesake sports facility so that he could train, picking up his mates along the course of the 10-hour drive.
Let that sink in.
Most in the comfort of their houses who are quick to pass judgment on others’ may never undertake that much pain to pursue something with passion.
Lack of public or private funding meant he and his teammates had to bear all the expenses – the gears, travels, meal, and accommodation.
That paved the way for the second wave as the cricketing world saw ridicule soon give its way for respect. Respect, indeed, for a Transylvanian nightclub bouncer who despite earning 400 bucks a month would board a 700 euros flight to England without sparing a thought just to learn about the game that we claim to love. Respect for a 40-year-old playing through the recovery of a broken ankle. Respect for a man doing everything within his humane capacity to grow the game in his country.
People in numbers tried to set him off him with the fear of failure. They told him he was a random Romanian trying to get into a sport he never even heard of until recently. He was told there was no plausible way he could come through. But Florin cared least. With an unshaken resolve, he sat out on a voyage many dubbed as a suicide mission. Did he set the world on fire? No. Did he engrave his name among the legends of the game? No. Did he have fun?
Hell yes, he did.
When asked about why he played the game despite being a laughing stock to many, he would happily reply, “It’s that adrenaline when you are in the field, it’s the adrenaline you get when you’ve got the bat in your hand, it’s the adrenaline you get when you’re bowling. You don’t know if your bowling is going to go well or not go well; you don’t know whether you’re going to take a wicket or not take a wicket.
“It’s about that feeling of adrenaline when the ball is coming in the air and you have to catch it. This is it. It’s that adrenaline – you want more and more of it.”
About the laughable bowling action, he went on, “My bowling is strange. It is not regular. I bowl slow because if I bowl faster, everybody hits me. I’m not stupid”
“Everybody says that I drop grenades, but it’s my style. I was never coached. I don’t want to change. Everybody says: ‘Come and I will teach you bowling.’ Why teach me? This is my style. Maybe with being accurate I have a problem, but I improve.”
Isn’t that what cricket is all about? To have fun and get high on the gusto that it has to offer? Isn’t it why the humankind resorted to sports in the first place, before all these squalls of capitalism and skirmish for perfection took over?
Pavel Florin’s journey also teaches us plenty about life and the challenges it puts at us. For instance, heard about, “when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade.”
He pointed to our eyes the dogma associated with those considered ‘outsiders,’ for not possessing a direct link with the game.
Yet, his rise tells us it’s just noise many contend with when they aren’t fed the usual story.
Pavel Florin has upheld the importance of passion; why it can go a long way to distinguish one in a journey where there are countless travelers but only a handful makes the cut.
For a country known for the majestic beauty of the Carpathian mountains, Pavel Florin has reminded there’s more to Romania than Count Dracula’s captivating tales. Well, his already seems like a legend-in-the-making.
(*Note- all images sourced from Pavel Florin)