Md. sports club gets its turn at bat

A longtime local cricket club's sticky wicket -- no home field -- will soon be a thing of the past

December 17, 2007|By Julie Scharper | Julie Scharper,Sun reporter

For now, the fields at Cloverland Park in northern Baltimore County are bare, save for swirls of yellowed grass and the occasional deer track.

But by summer, athletes are expected to be scurrying across a manicured playing field here. Dressed in white and thwacking leather balls at a wooden wicket, they won't be playing baseball or lacrosse or any of the sports more commonly associated with this region. They will be playing cricket.

After more than 30 years of playing at various locations in the county, the men of the Maryland Cricket Club will be granted a semipermanent home at the park, near the old Peerce's Plantation restaurant on Dulaney Valley Road.

For the cricket players - many of whom hail from India, Pakistan and the Caribbean - the new field marks an important sign of recognition for their sport, which attracts a huge following in countries in the Commonwealth.

"In India, it's pretty much a religion when they play this game," says Sakar Kalwe, 28, who played cricket professionally in his native country before moving to Reisterstown. "Cricket is a mainstream sport there - like soccer or lacrosse here. Pretty much every small kid learns to play it, and that's what they grow up with."

Officials with the county's recreation and parks office say that while their top priority is providing facilities for young people to play the most popular sports, they also do their best to accommodate aficionados of more esoteric sports such as archery, fencing and cricket.

"Baltimore County will help any community that shows a willingness and desire to help themselves," says Bud Chrismer, the county's acting deputy director of recreation and parks. While teams must pay for their own uniforms, equipment and referees, the county will try to provide and maintain a place for them to play.

In the case of the cricket players, "they're a good group who have been following the rules for the past 30-some years," Chrismer says, adding that he expects to spend less than $25,000 to build the cricket field. "It's not like we're trying to create a cricket mecca; we're just trying to create a home for them."

From the folks who play bicycle polo in Mount Washington to Little Italy's bocce ball players, the Baltimore area is home to numerous practitioners of lesser-known sports. Several recreation programs in the surrounding counties offer disc golf, archery and rugby, and the city sponsors an annual frog hop and soapbox derby.

About 30 men play with the Maryland Cricket Club, one of the 17 teams that comprise the Washington Metro Cricket Board. Across the country, about 10,000 athletes on 600 teams play the sport, according to Gladstone Dainty, president of the U.S. Cricket Association.

Although cricket has never attracted a major following in this country, worldwide, it trails only soccer in popularity, experts say. A "test match" between Pakistan and India, for instance, can attract 1 billion television viewers, says Paul Hensley, president of the C.C. Morris Cricket Library Association at Haverford (Pa.) College, the nation's only library dedicated to cricket.

While test matches can stretch over five days, local cricket games generally last six or seven hours, from noon to early evening, with a few breaks. The game is played on an oval field by two teams of 11. There are no backstops or bases, but two wooden structures known as "wickets" that sit at opposite ends of a flat strip of earth known as the pitch.

A bowler, or pitcher, from the fielding team, stands by one wicket and hurls a small leather ball toward the other. If the batsman hits the ball with his flat, paddle-shaped bat, he has the option to run to the opposite wicket, trading places with another member of his team. To compare it to baseball, it's as if the batter ran to the pitcher's mound and another batter, who had been standing by the pitcher's mound, ran to home plate.

If the batsmen change sides without being called out, a run is scored.

"You have to be fast and have good hand-eye coordination," says Maryland Cricket Club member Charles Lall, an information technology worker for Northrop Grumman. At 58, Lall has been playing the sport for more than half a century. Because the sport requires more finesse and technique than brute strength, players in their 40s and 50s are common, Lall says.

"It's a game of honor," says Hensley. Players never spit or argue with the referee, and they speak up if they are out and the referee hasn't noticed, he says.

Experts say that little is known about cricket's origins but it is believed that the game was first developed in England in the Middle Ages. By one account, the first cricket players were bored shepherds who used their crooks to whack balls at pasture gates, Hensley said.

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