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Batting Against the Odds

The crack of a cricket bat rings through the air with a crisp pop.

"Hey! What are you doing? Get him out!"

"Go, go - you can make at least one run!"

Thwap!

On the lush lawns of Hereford College, where the nosebleed altitude provides a picture-perfect view of blue, hazy mountains, the game was in full swing that Saturday, as the University cricket club played its regular weekend match.

Maybe you have never heard of the cricket club, or did not even know that cricket was anything except a chirping insect. Lost in the shuffle of big University sports like basketball and football, unusual club sports like cricket, archery and squash usually are relegated to the sidelines in terms of fan appreciation.

But with over 40 members and plans for intercollegiate play next semester, the cricket club offers the potential to move beyond quirky club sport status and give fans and players more to cheer about than run-of-the-mill American sports.

In the spring of 1999, the cricket club was born when two South Asian international students decided it would be nice to continue playing the sport that many of them had played in high school.

"We yell in Hindi mostly," said first-year College student Razi Farook. "It's not the same in English."

Hailing primarily from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, the club's members brought their own bats and equipment from home and began to play regular weekend games.

"We mainly bring our own equipment from India," said third-year College student Kalpan Hossain. "It's all professional quality."

 
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  • Common Cricket Jargon

  • Blossoming from occasional games to an organized sport that can be found any spring weekend in Hereford College, the cricket club has established itself in the past few years as the reigning group of athletes of the green fields behind Runk Dining Hall.

    "We play in any weather, even when it gets dark sometimes," said first-year Engineering student Shahzad Calcuttawalla. "Once we went through four types of weather in a single game - it was sunny, then it got cloudy, then it rained a little and finally it snowed."

    Although the cricket club has not yet purchased all its equipment for next semester, playing with makeshift supplies like a tennis ball wrapped in tape to create a harder ball might be a better idea anyway.

    "We've never broken a window here," said cricket club president Kunal Jogani, grinning. "If we were using the hard balls though, we probably would not be allowed to stay here."

    In the game

    In an Attention Deficit Disorder-ridden country like America, where television commercials cannot be longer than 20 seconds and pro-football games are jam packed with commentary and trivia, cricket is sometimes dismissed as a slow-paced and dull game. Since cricket relies on strategy, a single game can take as long as five days to play.

    Cricket often is compared to baseball, because both sports consist of two teams batting and scoring runs. But in many ways, this is where the similarity ends. In cricket, the ball is not "pitched," but "bowled" underhand. And cricket players do not run around the bases after batting either. Batsmen strategically run between two bases, which are actually lines called "popping creases," that are directly opposite one another.

    There are 11 players from each team on the field at one time. At each pitch, there are two players up at bat, the "striker," who is actually batting, and another player who is waiting some distance away opposite the striker.

    The striker does not have to run every time a ball is batted from the bowler. Yet when the striker does hit the ball and deems it safe to run, both batsmen start to run toward each other, pass each other and end up where their partner started. As soon as the bat touches the popping crease, a run has taken place.

    To stop the batting team from running, you must get 10 of the 11 batsmen out, or in cricket-speak, "take all of the batting team's wickets."

    Coming to America

    Although cricket is an extremely popular sport in South Asia, Australia, Africa and England, it never has been embraced with the same fervor in America. In America, sports fans would prefer a BallPark frank and beer to the tea and dessert that once was offered between innings in British cricket. In some ways, this quick dismissal of the cricket in America has transformed into animosity at the University, where cricket players are not always met with respect.

    "We always stop the game when people walk by," said Farook. "But people aren't always that nice. They yell at us and make comments sometimes. I just say one thing: open your minds."

    Overall though, the self-umpired games carry on without disruption. Gatorade bottles, key chains and orange Styrofoam litter the sidelines as players cheer and engage in games that last anywhere from four to six hours on Friday and Saturday afternoons.

    One of the goals for the cricket club next year is to encourage more players to come out. Since the club now consists primarily of South Asian students, it is making concerted efforts to recruit more people of all backgrounds. It is difficult to get hooked on cricket in the United States, where even the crucial One-Day International Matches that took place last month could only be viewed on Fox Sports World channel via satellite dish. Yet some players have already found their way onto the field.

    "In the past few weeks, we have had many Americans come out and play," said Jogani. "Four of them would like to join the club when we get a field and a league going next year."

    Jogani also mentioned that the team is looking to involve women in the team, and a few interested ladies have contacted the club. Next year the cricket club also plans to select a team from among the 40 players to travel to James Madison University and other Virginia schools for intercollegiate play.

    While the lingo of bowling, bails, stumps and wickets is as foreign to an American college student as Swahili, to the recently re-energized University cricket club, these words are as much a part of its sporting vocabulary as "touchdown" or "homerun." Last month in India, 250 million viewers tuned in to watch the Five-Day Internationals. With the cricket club in town now, it's just a matter of time before the University adds a few more fans to the tally.

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