[AUDIO] Cricket Unites in Queens
On the international cricket stage, rivalries between national teams can be intense. The India-Pakistan rivalry is among the greatest in sports. Games between the two teams have incited riots, flag burning and fights in the stands. In the New York-based Commonwealth Cricket League, however, Indians and Pakistanis play side-by-side with handshakes, smiles and only friendly teasing. Tensions are minimal in the league.
The Commonwealth League, the oldest in New York City, has 72 teams. Indians, Bangladeshis, Pakistanis, Trinidadians, Guyanese, and Sri Lankans, all rivals back home, are often teammates here. They are carrying on a favorite pastime from home.
“We are all like brothers. We treat each other like brothers. We’re good here. No probs, never ever,” said Mohit, a player from Punjab, India as he excitedly cheers his team on at Kissena Park in Flushing. The league will continue playing most Sundays in parks throughout the city as long as weather permits.
Badsha Chowdhury, from Bangladesh, said the sport serves to unite rather than divide.
“The good thing about Commonwealth Cricket League is that when you build a team you really don’t see who’s Pakistani, who’s Indian, we build a team according to the players, so we have a group of guys, 12 guys playing together. So when they come together we don’t care about your race, your religion, nothing. It’s just one team,” Chowdhury said.
Mohit said that cricket is a more lighthearted game here in New York than back home in India.
“Over there we play with more passion, and cricket is like a religion to us. Over here it is okay, it’s like for fun, and we guys are playing but that’s a good thing. Because over there we never get the chance to play with Pakistan, Sri Lanka, this and that,” he said.
Manish Sharma, a Punjabi taxi driver and the captain of the Commonwealth team Elite, said the mix of nationalities helps players with their game.
“When you are playing domestic it’s completely different because you understand their language, you understand many things, what are they talking about, you see what sort of game planning they’re having. Here you may have to figure it out,” he said.
Manish enjoys navigating these challenges. “That makes me feel like I’m playing international or something,” he added.
Mustafa Diwan, the team captain of Commonwealth team Rajput, also enjoys playing with a variety of nationalities and likes how that changes the game.
He said there are, however, some challenges to playing cricket in New York.
In his native India, he said, there are grounds everywhere made specifically for cricket.
“Here, the grounds are not well-maintained,” he said. “We don’t have good facilities.”
Because cricket fields in New York are used for a variety of sports, the grass is not properly cut for cricket, Diwan said.
One of the regular umpires, Christian Singh of Trinidad, said this is because cricket is not a big sport in America.
“Not many Americans play. In baseball fields, they usually cut the grass more often,” he said.
Diwan said that although the Commonwealth Cricket League is open to any nationality, it’s unusual to see anyone who isn’t South Asian or West Indian. One may think that British players would join, given Britain’s historic connection to cricket.
Not the case, said Diwan. “It’s rare to see a player from Europe.”
Even so, the players stressed that anyone is always welcome. This particular Sunday, an English player happened to be on the field.
Daniel Melamud, hoping to get back into a sport from his childhood, recently visited a cricket store and met Mohit. Mohit invited him to come play.
“Today I’m meeting all these guys for the first time, and they’re people from Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, and everyone is incredibly welcoming and friendly. It’s nice to hear different stories and to see everyone’s passion for the game,” he said after running off the field.
Sharma said that while there is goodwill between nationalities, the true rivalry comes out when friends play each other.
“When your friends are playing, you really want to win that game, you know. You eventually try to get them aggravated one way or another, by talking or by doing anything else.”
After the game, Sharma said, teams put any competition aside to enjoy each other’s company.
“But then, it’s always happy ending, we get together, have barbeque, have a couple of drinks, that’s how we finish it up.”