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Cricket In Celtics-Land

Posted by Yoshita Singh on July 20, 2010

No one waits for Boston summers the way Ajay Beniwal does. Well, actually everyone waits for the few months of sun before the city turns white and cold again. But for Beniwal, May through September is the only time in the year he gets to play the one sport he has been passionate about since his childhood.

May through September is cricket time. And for him, it is the best of time.

Beniwal is not alone. For the other 10 members in his team – Boston Cricket Club – summer months are precious, even priceless. They pray for a nice long summer, pray that rains don’t play spoil sport and pray friends or relatives don’t come visiting.

“Our weekends during the summer are booked for cricket. Since we get such limited days to play, we hate it if we lose even a single day to rain, work or relatives,” Beniwal, BCC’s captain, says.

Born and brought up in India, Beniwal, 31, has been living in the US for the last 14 years. Most of his teammates are from India, where cricket is more than just a sport. It’s a religion. It’s not uncommon to see little boys in India play with plastic bats before they can even say the word cricket or to see mothers having a harrowing time to get their sons to study and not play the bat and ball game on the roads after school.

Cricket may not be as popular in the US as it is in India and other parts of the world. But that didn’t stop Beniwal from pursuing his passion here. He joined the Massachusetts State Cricket League, the 104-year old organization devoted to cricket in the state (yes, the MSCL is that old. Did you know that). The League has three divisions that have a total of 28 teams.

                       

Cricketing conditions are not exactly ideal in Boston – a city where names like the Red Sox, Celtics and Patriots will most certainly ring a bell as opposed to an Eagle Cricket Club. Most cricket matches are played on football or baseball fields and sometimes even on tennis courts. Grounds that are available in the city’s suburbs do not have the 22-yard pitch on which the game is played. Teams arrive hours before a match to lay an artificial pitch called matting, mark boundaries and set up tents for the members.

Arranging funds and finding sponsors for the teams is also not easy. Most of the players have their personal cricket gear – bat, balls, gloves, pads, helmet and stumps – which costs $800-$900. The price tag on a matting pitch is $3000-$4000. Team members chip in money to pay for umpire fees and book grounds or indoor baseball cages for practice. The fee for a player is $200 for a season. The Massachusetts State Cricket League has however managed to arrange some funds for uniforms for the teams – blue pants and T-shirts instead of the dull white ones before.

“Our desire to play cricket overshadows these imperfections,” says Arvind Shukla, another cricket fanatic. Shukla moved to Boston from Florida a couple of months ago. And before deciding upon a moving company that would ferry his furniture and luggage, he had zeroed in on a cricket team that he would join when he arrived in Boston.

“We may not have the best pitches here but that does not bother us. We’ve grown up playing cricket on roads and bylanes in India. Nothing matters to us more than being able to play cricket here,” Shukla says.

Now, before you begin to feel that cricket is doomed in America, hold your horses. The sport is slowly making some headway. The Central Broward Regional Park in Florida is home to the only custom-built cricket stadium in the US. International cricket debuted in America this year when New Zealand took on Sri Lanka in the Pearls Cup 20-20 match. Beniwal feels the cricket format best suited for the American audience is the 20-20 cricket. Each team bats for 20 overs and the entire match lasts for about 3 hours, almost the same time as a baseball game. The 50-over match that lasts an entire day or the innings format in which the game is played for 5 days will not find any takers in the US, he says.

On its part, the MSCL is making efforts to promote the game, especially among kids. The League would be conducting cricket camps in schools and colleges to spread awareness. Currently, most members on the teams are immigrants from countries like Pakistan, England and West Indies where the game is immensely popular. MSCL’s President Manas Sahu says Americans are beginning to take interest in the game. Some come to watch the matches and are keen to learn the sport. “It’s a slow start but at least it’s a start,” Sahu says in an optimistic tone.

A sunny Sunday morning sees Beniwal and his team head for Wrentham for a match against a West Indian team. Beniwal isn’t amused when one of his teammates checks Weather.com and jokes there are chances it may rain. Before the match begins, Boston Cricket Club huddles up and shouts ‘WIN.’ Energy bars, Gatorade and a water cooler – the team’s sustenance for the next 8 hours – are stacked on chairs under a small tent.

The sky is clear. The temperature is close to 90 degrees. Beniwal couldn’t ask for more.

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