Samir Chopra March 16, 2010

Cricket and becoming American

When I stepped out into the windswept, icy canyons of Manhattan later that afternoon, my naturalization papers in my backpack, I had to restrain a giggle or two

Neville Cardus was the spark for a most interesting discussion © Getty Images

On this blog and on Eye on cricket, I'm fond of noting my American location: perhaps to make a complaint about American media coverage of cricket, perhaps to note the similarities and dissimilarities in professional sports rivalries and those in international cricket, perhaps to mildly complain about the lack of cricket books in the US or, like my post yesterday, to report a sighting of cricket-related art (an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, featuring the Mexican conceptual artist Gabriel Orozco, whose works feature cricket photographs).

So, in that vein, I would like to report what strikes me as the most unlikely encounter I've had with anything cricket related in the US: an Immigration and Naturalization Service interview. In the course of this procedure, and in process of "becoming American", cricket became intimately involved.

Some ten years ago, after some years in the US with a permanent resident card, I decided, (as can be imagined, with some mixed feelings), to apply for American citizenship. As usual, the paperwork was tedious, and I was required to make a final appearance before an immigration service officer who would review my papers.

On a bitterly cold December morning, I lined up at the Federal Building in New York City, submitted my papers and took my place in the cheerless waiting room along with dozens of other applicants. The room was a veritable United Nations; the expressions of the folks therein reflecting a similar diversity of emotions ranging from boredom to hope to eager anticipation.

Finally, my turn came and I walked in for my interview. The immigration officer, a young man in his thirties, sat me down and turned to a brisk inspection of my passport, quickly (and at times brusquely) querying me on the contents of my passport: what was this trip made for, when, for how long and so on.

Then, at one point, he held up my passport, and pointing to a visa stamp made by the Jamaican authorities, said "Were you visiting Kingston for a holiday?" I replied I had gone to Kingston to watch a Test match between India and the West Indies, that I had spent five days in Jamaica, all of them at Sabina Park (in 1997).

I expected my reply to be met with incomprehension. Instead, my interviewer put down my passport and began a conversation about cricket. He knew about it, he had followed the game occasionally, he was fascinated by it, and all because, wait for it, he had studied Neville Cardus in a class on creative writing back in his university days! To describe my reaction as being flabbergasted would be to severely understate matters.

The interview was now comprehensively sidetracked. We chatted about the game, about its biggest rivalries, its future, modern innovations and so on. Finally, with some regret, the INS officer looked at his watch and noted that we should wrap things up. There was one last step left. I had to write a sentence in English, which would attest to my mastery of the language. What should I put down?

The topic of the sentence was a no-brainer; its content was immediately suggested, on the basis of our conversation, by my newly-made friend: "I prefer Test cricket to the shorter version of the game." I duly complied, wrote it down, and finished the remaining formalities. A handshake later, and I was done.

When I stepped out into the windswept, icy canyons of Manhattan later that afternoon, my naturalization papers in my backpack, I had to restrain a giggle or two. Who woulda thunk it? A conversation about cricket in my US citizenship interview? The deal sealed with an expression of my preference for Test cricket?

Years later, this remains my favourite US-related cricketing story.

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