Cricketphobia

American Cricketers in the Mid-19th Century.

am seventeen years old. As with every Saturday in the summer, I meet my high school cricket club in Central Park to play pick-up cricket on a dusty patch of dirt and weeds near 86th St. and Central Park West. We’re a rag-tag group of semi-athletes from British, Portuguese, Jewish, Chinese, Hungarian, and South Asian heritage, but our real allegiance is to New York, where most of us were born. And we are its prime example, here in the city of endless opportunity and human flow, we’re a bunch of New York kids playing cricket.

Today, though, there is a hiccup. Some middle-aged volleyball players have set up next to the “field.” Typical New York, we think; people on top of people on top of people. It’s what makes this city so tough, but also so great.

Apparently not all New York residents feel this way.

I bowl a ball to the batsman, James, a sophomore and cricket neophyte who’s really taken to the sport I brought in as a freshman three years before. We play on the baseball team together too and he’s good. A lot of these guys are on the baseball team and they’ve adapted to cricket really well. They like both sports, enjoying the nuances of the two with mutual appreciation. For once, James misses. The tennis-ball I’ve wrapped in electrical tape skids low along the dust, and rolls right into the makeshift volleyball court ahead.

What came after that I have never forgotten but remains a haze of noise and fear. Shouting. Swearing. Epithets. Threats. All this from one short, stocky man in an American flag bandanna who clearly loved volleyball so much he was willing to scream “Fuck you” at a teenager in a park surrounded by children and families. I tried to mediate to no effect. Was it the stray ball that triggered a hurricane of fury or was it the fact that white, brown, and black kids were playing a sport he deemed foreign?

I’ll be honest, I don’t remember the man’s last words before we picked up and left completely shook, but I remember the words “terrorist” and “foreigner” being thrown around before a graceful, “fuck off with your croquet shit!”

He couldn’t even get the name right.

The Haverford College First XI circa 1885. The college boasted the first all-American cricket club until the sport’s popularity died out. ( Library Company of Philadelphia)

ricket is the second most popular sport in the world after soccer. It originated in the British Isles in the 1700s, but since then has been lovingly adopted by peoples all over the world — former British colonies especially. Unbeknownst to many, Colonial America was one of these hotbeds. John Adams and George Washington were both esteemed cricketers and it is believed that the title of our executive branch, President, was inspired by the structure of a cricket club. Even the first international cricket match, in 1844, was between Canada and, you guessed it, the United States.

Cricket died out like many sports have, because of class issues primarily. Cricket’s elite status, combined with the in-stream of Continental European immigrants who did not know the game, and topped off with the rise of cricket’s far cheaper and far faster new cousin Baseball saw an end to its already dwindling position in the young American zeitgeist. But there was one other element: its Britishness. Cricket came to be seen as foreign — an expression of treason. Xenophobia was interwoven into American cricket from the start.

The sport did not die out though. It just became dormant.

Cricket in America would flourish again thanks to waves of immigration beginning after the Second World War. Caribbean immigrants built the foundations of modern American cricket in major cities, which were then reinforced and strengthened by waves of immigrants from India and Pakistan that came to America when, in 1965, John F. Kennedy’s government opened up immigration to entice more doctors and scientists to bolster the United States’ already burgeoning STEM capabilities. Today, with the contributions of programmers and developers in the San Francisco Bay and New York Tri-State Area, engineers in the Midwest and Texas, and Doctors and Small Business owners all over the urban and suburban United States, the American cricket economy has grown tremendously.

Player numbers are at all-time highs. According to international governing body the International Cricket Council, there are an estimated 200,000 players in the U.S. among the 6,000 teams in 450 leagues across 44 states. This doesn’t account for the millions of fans.

Just like they have done in their industries, immigrants have made American cricket great again.

These postcards were mailed throughout Edison, NJ for weeks before the New Jersey elections on November 7, 2017. Edison is 29% Asian. In nearby Hoboken, the first Sikh-American mayor was elected, Ravinder Bhalia.

was the first in my family to be born in the United States. I started playing cricket seriously when I was twelve years old and for my entire playing “career” xenophobia has always cast a dark shadow in a particularly insidious way.

It’s a strange type of prejudice, cricketphobia. It’s one part isolationist overconfidence — a mangled version of American Exceptionalism Dogma in such denial of an outside world that even the very existence of a non-baseball sport that involves hitting a ball with a bat must be inferior. In high school I was bullied by jocks for playing a different sport. Since the age of twelve, I’ve been told cricket is “weird” or “stupid” or, of course, “gay.” Alongside dread of the unfamiliar, toxic masculinity and homophobia are American staples, though they pale in comparison to the second key factor in cricketphobia: Good ol’ fashioned American racism.

America has a racism problem, that’s not news. The racism towards cricket, however, is bizarre. While a majority of the world’s cricket-loving community are South Asian, the sport is quintessentially and famously British. Its laws, its terminology, its etiquette — all of these come from the very people that “real Americans” claim as ancestors. The United States has, until 2016, been proud of its melting pot origins (even though the melting pot seems to disintegrate cultures in the process of stewing). The U.S. is certainly cricket’s great melting pot, so much so that if it were accepted in our culture, we could easily produce the best international players in the world like we do with basketball, baseball, and more.

I have played with a person from every cricket-playing country, from Australia to Zimbabwe, just in New York alone. Nonetheless, Americans just see “Brown” when they see cricket. Cricketphobes see the things they’ve been told to fear by angry little men in the television set, on payroll from big corporations and government that like to exploit American fears. Despite the many citizen and green-card holding players, they see foreigners, which means they see “illegals.” They see Muslims or people they assume are Muslim (because more racism), so they see backwardness, violence, and “Sharia Law.” They see terrorists. They see enemies. They see what they want to see instead of what is really there.

Twenty-two sportsmen, their families on the boundary line with barbecue chicken, cold beer, and the utmost gratitude to be in the land of the free: These are the enemies of the cricketphobe.

They see what they want to see instead of what is really there.

It’s not about the sport. New American players who try out cricket, love it. It’s about fear, a raw, animalistic fear that is the leading force in the world right now. It’s so potent and so corrosive, that it is destroying the very human inventions that we have created to bring us joy in darkness.

Cricket is a sport bent on the unity of the team while also relying on individual performance. It’s a wonderful metaphor for the United States. Our overall success is reliant on individually thriving, but communal welfare. All for one and one for all. A cricket team falls apart when one player is not given support or is ostracized. Even if one player thrives, selfishness, team divisions, blaming, viciousness — they poison the team and lead only to perpetual defeat. Sound familiar?

The world is a scary place, but that’s not new. Ask almost any cricketer in America. Chances are they’ve come from a place where there are more terrorist attacks, more crimes, and more things to despair about than any native-born American could dream of. Cricket is not something to be angry about. Skin colour, economic background, religion, sexuality, gender, geography — these are not reasons to be enraged and its obvious when cricket is targeted.

That’s the essence of the Scapegoat. If you need to find a reason to be angry, you’re very likely not angry at anything but yourself.

Writer & artist. New York-raised, Diaspora style. www.guzelac.com

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