22 Aug 2014
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Standing on the Pitch: Cricket in Fairfield County

There's quite a few cricket lovers in the area.

Standing on the Pitch: Cricket in Fairfield County Standing on the Pitch: Cricket in Fairfield County

Here in southwestern Connecticut it can’t be easy to find men in white standing on the pitch.

“No, there is a lot of Cricket in Fairfield County,” said Neil Kimberly, President of Mad Dogs Cricket Club.

Oops. Try that again. Here in southwestern Connecticut it’s not uncommon to see someone bowl a googly, even on a sticky wicket.

In fact there are 16 teams in the area and the Greenwich-based Mad Dogs is just one of them, Kimberly said. Mad Dogs got its start in 1990 when the British Chamber of Commerce invited the Australian Chamber of Commerce for a friendly match. Afterwards the players, most of whom are ex-pats, decided to form a club.

Although team headquarters are in Greenwich, Mad Dog has players from Stamford, Westchester County, New York City and even New Jersey. They play in Christiano Park in Greenwich and practice at the Ponus Ridge Middle School in Norwalk.

Kimberly played cricket in England throughout his childhood. He played every summer from the age 3 to age 16. He played day after day on long summer nights.

Peter Smith, 14, started playing in sixth grade after watching “Lagaan,” a sports-themed Bollywood movie, in school for a unit on India.

 “I’ve always been interested in British sports,” Peter said.

Smith immersed himself in the sport by watching YouTube. Then he organized a few foreign-born students—kids from India, England, and Guyana—to play at recess. At home in Oxford he plays on a homemade pitch and travels hours to find teams to play on.

 “He is completely obsessed with cricket,” said his mother Nancy, who, like Peter’s father, is very supportive of her son’s choice of sport.

Last July Peter joined the Connecticut Youth Cricket League and was selected to the Under 15 Northeast Region team for the U15 USACA National Championship. Peter was also chosen to play on the U19 Northeast Region team for the USACA Nationals Eastern Conference.

This summer Peter plans on playing a couple of games with Mad Dogs and will practice as much as he can.

“I really just want to get better and play better,” he said. 

His mother, Nancy, she finds cricketers exceptionally affable.

“I have witnessed them welcome Peter without question,” Nancy said. “It feels, to me, like all cricketers belong to a club—just broken up into smaller groups, so there is very little petty competition like you would find in most sports.”

Mad Dogs have played in the Philadelphia Cricket Festival and toured in Charlotte,  NC, Sarasota, FL, Toronto, Nevis, Grenada and Buenos Aires. They also coordinate the New York Ashes, an annual summer event for local Britons and Australians.

Last March the team played in Sri Lanka.

“It’s only been in the last decade that it’s gotten easier for people to play, because people have an easier time connecting,” Kimberly said. “The desire to play and the demand has increased.”

In fact some New York City public schools have teams because about 20 percent of the city’s population was born in cricket-playing nations such as Great Britain, Australia, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka or the Caribbean.

Cricket was, and is, played in nearly every place the Crown once ruled, including the U.S. of A.

In 1843, the US and Canada played in an international game. But then the Civil War came and it was easier to play baseball in the prison camps; no prepared squares were needed. Later cricket became associated with gambling and drunkenness; something “puritanical America” couldn’t abide, Kimberly said.

Today players rely for equipment on a combination of visits home, eBay, and Singh’s Sporting Goods in Queens.

“Going into there transports you back to your homeland,” Kimberly said of the store. “There are evocative smells: the leather pads, the wood wicket, which is made of willow—that has a very distinctive smell.”

There are many reasons players play. Part of the attraction for Kimberly is the intellectual challenge.

“There is certainly a degree of fascination with it. It has a certain mystique with it—all these players dressed in white,” Kimberly said. “There is also an assumption that it’s a slow moving game. But it’s an interesting combination of baseball and chess.”

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