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August 29, 2009

Samir Chopra

Play a game away from home

Samir Chopra



Here is a question I'm often asked by people who know of my obsession with cricket: why don't you play cricket in the US? The answer to that is a little tricky and I struggle to express it clearly. It goes something like this: I prefer playing cricket in a context where the game fits in organically with the rest of its surroundings. I know this is not entirely rational, and I welcome feedback from folks who do play cricket in the US on how they experience the game here.

I've played cricket in India and Australia, and indeed, after arriving in the US some 22 years ago, played a few games at my university (with the usual grab-bag of Indian, Pakistani and West Indian students). Since then, I've never picked up a bat or ball in the US. And given my present location in Brooklyn, which is one of the hotbeds of cricketing activity in the US, this is a surprising business.

For, somehow, I do not feel a strong desire to play the game here. I often see students at Brooklyn College playing a quick game on the grounds; I often see Bangladeshi boys practicing close to Prospect Park, and more than once I've seen young men walking around with cricket kit bags on their way to a game. But I never feel the compulsion to walk up and ask for a bowl or a bat.

It's not because I've become too old. In the intervening years, I've played cricket in Australia and will do again in Sydney this January. But I look forward to those games in a way that I don't in the US. When I played cricket in Australia, I was surrounded by the game and its trappings. Walking around in the city center in whites, carrying a cricket kit bag, felt normal. We played on city council grounds meant for cricket; during innings, as I relaxed on the sidelines with my team, we checked cricket scores on the radio; when games were over, we retired to pubs where we ran into other cricketers as Test cricket was shown on a big screen. And when I went to parties later at night, my other friends would ask me how the day's game went, and would respond appropriately when I told them of a duck or a four-for.

In short, cricket was everywhere, and we contributed to the big picture. In contrast, in the US (in a way well described in Joseph O'Neill's Netherland), cricket, despite being proudly played by large, important, immigrant communities, sticks out, and is played on sufferance. To play cricket meant participating in an oddity, something out of whack with its surroundings.

Perhaps the best way to explain this state of mind is to draw a parallel with my music tastes. I noticed on my trips back to India after living in the US that many artistes and genres that I was fond of listening to in the US, sounded discordant when listened to in India. In 1992, I played Ministry in my brother's living-room in Ambala, and quickly turned it off. Al Jourgensen felt jarring in those surroundings. And conversely I felt less comfortable with listening to Indian artistes and genres here in the US; somehow Pandit Jasraj didn't blend with Manhattan street sounds. It's almost as if I needed an organic, seamless meshing between the music and its setting to become fully lost in the listening experience.

I know this is an entirely personal, idiosyncratic and possibly ill-founded reaction. But I cannot deny its presence in my decision to abstain from cricket in my present setting. It's not as if I decline invitations to play cricket; if I were to be asked, I would probably say yes, because, what the heck, it is cricket. It's just that I've never taken any active steps to play the game.

The music example is perhaps illuminative in other ways: cricket, as a game, has a cadence and a rhythm of its own, one that demands a certain location, a certain tuning with its setting. In the US, that co-relation has been missing on a deeply personal level. Perhaps, as the game grows, even if only in small ways, - like becoming a recognised school game in New York City - that adjustment will take place and I will be able to play my beloved game in my adopted home.

Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He tweets here

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Posted by Youvi on (September 5, 2009, 20:12 GMT)

Samir- It will never be the same whether it comes to cricket or music or food as it was in the old country. The biryani that I long for and occasionally eat in the United States never tastes the same way it does when I visit the old country. There is something missing and I can't put my finger on it. The same goes for cricket, I suppose. Whether following it or watching it or perhaps playing it if one had the inclination. Now, talking of biryani, I will probably end up going to the nearest restaurant in Minnesota (where I live) and have some this weekend. I know it will never be the Hyderabadi biryani that I truly want it to be but nonetheless I suggest you might go and do the same with a game of cricket !

Posted by Ali Siddique on (September 3, 2009, 23:18 GMT)

i live in D.C metro area and there r 2 leagues going on overe here but as samir said it doesnt attract u tht mucg as as compared to a mere tape ball match in pakistan...reason 4 tht is tht u dont have too many ppl to talk abt after playing da game.u cant discuss it wid many ppl and also da fact tht its official makes it unappealing.how many ppl from ind and pak plays official cricket.they usually likes to play their own brand of cricket which does not involve anything OFFICIAL.theres a need for unofficial cricket to be played in da streets of US wid majority playing it.

Posted by Sriram Dayanand on (September 3, 2009, 12:05 GMT)

While I do understand what you mean by the discordance of the location causing you to stay away from the game, it is not something I can personally identify with (and you did emphatically state that this could be a personal idiosyncracy).

I have never had any trouble getting all fired up to play cricket in the U.S or Canada - to the same extent as I did in India. No issues whatsoever.

And on the music front, I am diametrically opposite to you. My subway rides to work in Toronto are filled with mandatory accompaniment of Bhimsen Joshi, t.M Krishna etc. - all of who alternate their spots between Radiohead, Dylan or the Clash etc. as the day may demand.

Posted by Nayagan on (September 3, 2009, 11:15 GMT)

Samir,

it is quite different when one identifies as the cacophony within local melody from the very beginning (as y mother and I did in ultra-rural Virginia, over 20 years ago).

I barely have the time for local cricket these days but it is played with passion and actual respect from good ole boys playing softball in the next ground over.

I'm entirely untaught (26 years of american sports will not prepare you for a steepling bouncer) and can bowl both inswing and outswing (More Ryder than Kulasekara unfortunately). Now, I only take time out for sports in order to watch cricket. Everything else I engage at the periphery (fantasy leagues, news reports.) This Orioles/Broncos/Knicks--Sri-Lanka change simply can't be realized in the existential dangerzone that you seem to occupy.

I invite you back, however, and would like one day to test my uberdobblers against what would still be formidable opposition.

Posted by Gordon Makin on (September 1, 2009, 17:51 GMT)

To conclude my comments I agree with Dave fully and say that you're view on not playing cricket here in america because you want to fit in is childish and just plain silly.

Posted by Gordon Makin on (September 1, 2009, 17:47 GMT)

I am a 13 year old cricketer born in the USA with an English father and I've played cricket here for about 2 years for Michigan Cricket Academy. Having played in the national inter/regional u-15 tournament for the Central East Region (basically Illianois, Michigan, and Minnesota) it is hard to believe that cricket is so far away here from youth cricket in major cricketing countries. The level of play was not as high as in India but the top pace bowlers were bowling at 70 miles an hour, the best batsmen were hitting hundreds and fifties and the best spinners were drifting and turning the ball hard on the matted pitches we played on.

Posted by boshyd on (August 31, 2009, 18:09 GMT)

I play in Boston,MA and the league here is very competitive. Games are played on matting and last 40 overs each innings. From what I know, NY is even more competitive. Did Samir ever wonder that even if he is interested in playing, he might not find a position in the playing 11?

Aravindha, people play cricket with real cricket ball and equipment and not just tape tennis, hard tennis, in NY. You should go join them sometime, then maybe you wont feel so strange after all.

Dave, completely agree with you.

Posted by Dave on (August 30, 2009, 5:19 GMT)

Get over yourself and just play cricket and don’t over complicate things.

Posted by Aravindha on (August 30, 2009, 3:35 GMT)

Samir, I completely relate to your view. I have felt the same when I see guys playing with a taped ball. I've felt always out of place on seeing cricket here in Manhattan,

Posted by Harcourt Bourne on (August 30, 2009, 3:32 GMT)

I am Barbadian I played cricket from the time I was big enough to hold cricket bat and I played cricket there until I move to the USA (16) years ago I was lucky to live in Brooklyn where cricket is played and of course I am playing cricket in the Brooklyn Softball Cricket Association played with the tennis ball I choose to play softball than hardball because I know cannot play for the USA at this time.I enjoy playing it has good levell and very good quality players from other West Indian Islands the BSCA has been in exsitance for (27)years. I am good enough to play hardball but prefer softball no injuries we play from May-October we play with ICC rules you must bowl and play lbw and on real pitch the real deal.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Samir Chopra
Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He runs the blogs at samirchopra.com and Eye on Cricket. His book on the changing face of modern cricket, Brave New Pitch: The Evolution of Modern Cricket has been published by HarperCollins. Before The Cordon, he blogged on The Pitch and Different Strokes on ESPNcricinfo. @EyeonthePitch

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