Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/washington/news.aspx?id=86829
Story Retrieval Date: 5/26/2013 12:38:59 AM CST
HYATTSVILLE, Md. -- On a warm spring day in this Washington suburb, some 25 men from the West Indies and Pakistan meet on an open field, dressed in white uniforms and sun hats, some with sweaters draped over their shoulders.
In a community a mere eight miles northeast of the nation’s capital, one might expect the conversation to revolve around a foreign policy crisis, but instead the men have gathered for a cricket match.
Cricket has a stronger presence in America than the average baseball fan might think. There are 36 established leagues, 650 clubs and 12,000 senior players in the United States. Most of them are immigrants from South Asia and the West Indies.
Sheldon Ellis, a lawyer who came here from Jamaica 26 years ago, joined the Washington Cricket League (WCL) to keep up his childhood passion. When Ellis finished law school at American University, he decided to become more involved in bringing cricket into the mainstream. He now serves as the president of the league.
Ellis appreciates the camaraderie between his team members and also the way cricket connects immigrants from his home country in the Washington metropolitan area.
“I’ve been here for a long while and I’m Americanized now, so to get a little taste of what you grew up with is really a beautiful feeling,” Ellis said. He has known many of his team members since his early days in the U. S.
It’s been more than 150 years since the first international cricket game was played. Ironically, that match in 1844 was held not in Britain, but on American soil between the United States and Canada. Today, cricket in the United States lags in popularity behind many other areas of the world, most notably the United Kingdom, but also India, Pakistan, Australia and the West Indies.
Ellis and his teammates are trying to change that.
“We have to do it at the grassroots level, we have to start with the kids,” Ellis said pointing to cricket leagues in New York and California that have established high school cricket tournaments and “kiddies cricket”, a 45 -minute game aimed at generating interest among American youth. Approximately 45 colleges across the country have started some sort of cricket team or intramural league.
Ellis concedes that the length of the game and the space required have hindered cricket's growth in the United States.
Compared to a typical baseball game of about three hours, a cricket match can take up to eight hours and is played on two to three acres of land. However, for the cricket enthusiasts at the Washington Cricket League, the advantages to the game outweigh the inconveniences.
Ellis said cricket not only connects players to their roots, it also exposes them to new cultures. During the games, the players’ wives and girlfriends cook cuisines from their home country to keep up with the tradition of “tea time,” a British custom that became a regular fixture during matches. Ellis looks forward to sampling new Indian curries and Pakistani dishes even more sometimes than the game itself.
“Cricket is a unifying sport. There are people from different backgrounds…once you start playing the game with different folks from different cultures you realize that we’re not that far apart,” Ellis explained.
It’s called a gentlemen’s game or the game of life,” he said. “The perception of the game was premised on being a gentlemen and having good manners… there’s a discipline in the game that you take with you off the field.”
Cricket originally spread through British colonization. While the history of colonialism and monarchical rule leaves mixed memories for many, most can agree that cricket is one legacy for which they can thank the British.
The game of cricket, Ellis said, is one positive thing that came out of the colonial era. "It’s a beautiful game.”
Cricket, a relative of American baseball, is played on a sandy oval shaped area called a pitch. Two batters stand on either side of the pitch and attempt to hit a ball coming from the “bowler,” who throws it overhand much like a baseball pitcher. After contact is made by one player, a run is scored as the two batsmen cross each other while running across the pitch. A batter is “out” when the ball is caught in the air or when the bowler hits the wicket the ball, sort of a backstop of three wooden stumps hammered into the ground behind the batsman.
The Washington Cricket League will be swinging into its regular season this week.
Most of these players come from countries whose climates support playing cricket year round, so the few months out of the American calendar that allow them to play are full of events and matches surrounding their passion. Away from the pitch, teams regularly get together for socials, barbecues and parties to celebrate what many of them describe as an “addiction” to the sport.
“Many older guys they just can’t give it up no matter what. Even if they’re dragging on one leg, they’re coming out to play cricket and it has to be credited to the game to create that passion,” Ellis said.