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Wednesday, July 01, 2009

T20 grows in Brooklyn

The New York Times isn't noted for its coverage of cricket but occasionally it finds room for a piece about the game. This week Simon Akam writes about a New York Police Department attempt to engage with local immigrant communities:

The Gateway Cricket Ground in Brooklyn is a spartan place — a grass oval tucked in by the Belt Parkway, in the shadows of the towers of Starrett City and beneath the flight path of Kennedy International Airport.

But on Tuesday morning it was crowded with players, some toting paddlelike bats, and filled with the sound of leather balls struck by wood.

The sport they were playing is as ancient as it is baffling to most Americans, yet the New York Police Department has chosen cricket as a way to foster relationships with newer immigrant communities.

The Police Department established a cricket competition for young men in the city last summer; the project was a success, and on Tuesday, play began for another season. Interest has expanded, with 10 teams and 170 players involved this year, compared with 6 teams last year.

Mr Akam makes a pretty reasonable fist of rendering the game intelligible to his fellow New Yorkers:

A cricket match can last as long as five days and still end in a tie. However, the Police Department has adopted a shorter form of the game, called Twenty20 — in this form, a match lasts around three hours. The shorter form encourages big, crowd-pleasing hitting.

Twenty20 cricket has a serious international following, but John L. Aaron, the executive secretary of the USA Cricket Association, believes this abbreviated form is particularly suited to the mind-set on this side of the Atlantic.

“The sports psyche of the average American is: get home from work, see a game and get the kids to school in the morning,” he said.

The police have also had to make other adaptations to cricket to fit New York conditions. For example, a strip of rolled and immaculately trimmed grass is normally used as the playing surface on which a ball bounces before it is struck by a batsman. But that strip is expensive and rare in this country. So the league’s matches, played at Spring Creek Park in Brooklyn and Kissena Park in Queens, use a substitute: a heavy, fibrous mat that is staked to the ground before a game.

All this reminds me of Joseph O'Neill's novel Netherland, which was favourably reviewed by the NYT when it was published last year. The Times has also made the novel's first chapter available online. O'Neill's description of a (real) cricket ground on Staten Island is magnificent:

By the standards I brought to it, Walker Park was a very poor place for cricket. The playing area was, and I am sure still is, half the size of a regulation cricket field. The outfield is uneven and always overgrown, even when cut (once, chasing a ball, I nearly tripped over a hidden and, to cricketers, ominous duck), and whereas proper cricket, as some might call it, is played on a grass wicket, the pitch at Walker Park is made of clay, not turf, and must be covered with coconut matting; moreover the clay is pale sandy baseball clay, not red cricket clay, and its bounce cannot be counted on to stay true for long; and to the extent that it is true, it lacks variety and complexity. (Wickets consisting of earth and grass are rich with possibility: only they can fully challenge and reward a bowler's repertoire of cutters and spinners and bouncers and seamers, and only these, in turn, can bring out and fully test a batsman's repertoire of defensive and attacking strokes, not to mention his mental powers.) There is another problem. Large trees — pin oaks, red oaks, sweetgums, and American linden trees — clutter the fringes of Walker Park. Any part of these trees, even the smallest hanging leaf, must be treated as part of the boundary, and this brings randomness into the game. Often a ball will roll between the tree trunks, and the fielder running after it will partially disappear, so that when he reemerges, ball in hand, a shouting match will start up about exactly what happened.

A few lines later the cricket playing narrator says that Don Bradman and Garfield Sobers have played there. I'm not sure about this though the NYC Parks & Rec website ,apart from confirming that the park is named after a prominent local cricketer who died in WW1 (very Australian that), lists Bradman and W G Grace among those who have played there.

Update 2 July

Don Bradman did play at Walker Park in three one day matches for the 1932 Australians against "All New York" on 17, 18 and 19 July 1932.

These followed three one dayers against the "New York West Indians" at another New York ground on 14 , 15 and 16 July. Six days of cricket without a break! Wouldn't happen nowadays.

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