Thursday, June 12, 2008

Cricket in America

As Father's Day arrives Sunday and it already feels like summer, I offer today a father-son column on the
old ballgame from an immigrant's point of view.

When I say the old ball game, I do not mean baseball. That is where the immigrant part comes in. I write
of the really old ballgame -- cricket.

On the evolutionary tree of sports, the bat-and-ball game of cricket was the ancient root from which
baseball sprung. If you do not believe in evolution, it's enough you should know that the Almighty created
cricket on the first day and baseball came after Adam and Eve were expelled from the garden using
baseball mitts to cover their nakedness.

As another sign of divine providence, cricket has been in the news lately here in the United States. Yes, it
is a miracle but it is true.

The first round of stories dealt with a new professional league in India that seeks, not for the first time, to
jazz up the old game with colorful uniforms, cheerleaders and a more snappy format.

Even in India, where millions adore cricket, there is a perception that the game could be a tad faster. The
playwright George Bernard Shaw once said of the game: "The English are not very spiritual people, so
they invented cricket to give them some idea of eternity."

Americans are a spiritual people and do not need a sense of eternity because they have presidential
election campaigns that strain what little patience they are born with. But cricketers do require patience,
which explains why more Americans aren't toiling away under the summer sun dressed all in white.
Still, more cricketers are here than you might think -- thanks to increased immigration from old jewels of
the British Empire such as India and the West Indies. They are reviving what was once a flourishing
game in the United States.

A Pittsburgh Cricket Club was chartered in 1882. Back in the day, Pittsburgh gentlemen with muttonchop
facial hair and ladies with parasols sat in the bleachers, chanting: "Here we go cricketers, here we
go!" OK, I made that last part up.

Further confession and full disclosure: I am one of the group that met in a bar four years ago and founded
the Pittsburgh Cricket Association, which now plays in two locations, South Park and Franklin Park.
Locally, we play a shortened version of the game, which takes a mere four hours or so of exhilarating
action, except for the frequent pauses.

There are a number of clubs in the United States that can lay claim to ancient lineage. One of them is the
Staten Island Cricket Club in New York City, founded in 1872 with continuous play ever since.
This club was the focus of the second wave of media attention recently after one of its members, Joseph
O'Neill, an Irishman who was raised in the Netherlands and was educated at Cambridge University, wrote
a much-praised novel titled "Netherland" which amazingly references the Staten Island Cricket Club in
its exploration of the post-9/11 world.

In The New York Times last month, an article about the author was titled "Pen in One Hand, Cricket Bat
in the Other." Coincidentally, this also describes the story of my life as a Singapore-born, Australianreared
cricket lover educated at the University of Hard Knocks and trying to write with a cricket bat in
one hand.

As I write this column, bat in hand, I remember my old dad sitting on a hill overlooking the school
cricket field and watching me get out in various creative ways. Only once did I make him proud, when a
shaft of light descended from heaven, blinding the bowlers (pitchers) and allowing me to score run after
run, much to the amazement of my teammates.

Early in May, that shaft of light came back briefly in Philadelphia, once the center of America's cricket
universe. Pittsburgh was playing in the Philadelphia International Cricket Festival. It was the last day of
the four-day tournament and the Pittsburgh boys found themselves short a player.

I know a player, I said. My son, Jim, 25, was in Philadelphia for the weekend. He is an-all American boy
with no patience and little experience of cricket, but he takes after his mother in sporting prowess.
So it happened that Jim and I got to play together at the Germantown Cricket Club, a grand remnant of
American cricket's glory days in the 19th century. We were playing a British team, the Privateers, whose
members all looked straight out of "Masterpiece Theatre" and were frightfully good chaps.

The situation was desperate late in the game when I strode to the wicket to join Jim at bat (two batters are
on the field at the same time in cricket and alternate hitting the ball). The shaft of light appeared and we
batted together, defiant to the last.

I was so proud. A celestial choir of old mutton-chopped Pittsburghers chanted encouragement in the sky.
Father's Day had come early for me.

(Reg Henry is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. E-mail rhenry(at)
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