A Gentleman’s Game

by Andrea Rummel

The morning of the Midwest Cricket Conference’s (MCC) Division II final dawns so hot that the sun melts the goose feces that litter the massive fields of Washington Park. On ground number four, elegantly dressed all in white and toting worn bats and wooden wickets, the QC Kings and Rogers Park are readying themselves for the culmination of a tournament begun in April. QC Kings, captained by Nihar Shah, is made up of all Indians, while Rogers Park has only Pakistanis. “Oh dear…” a spectator might worry, sipping tea and thinking abstractly of Kashmir border conflicts, “I hope the game doesn’t get ugly.”

And indeed, conflict is rife in the cricketing circle of Washington Park, but it is an unexpected conflict. “There’s no racial rivalry between us,” says Shah, affirmed by nods from the Rogers Park players, whose off-break bowler, Faraz Najam adds with a laugh, “This isn’t like the India vs. Pakistan final.” The mess in the Midwest cricketing circle has nothing to do with world history.

Under the shoes of the 22 cricketers and two umpires, the surface of Washington Park is a broiling mass of soil that turns into a sloppy mess when exposed to any form of hydration–be it rain or the blood, sweat, and tears of a cricket team. Mohammad Iftikhar, the vice president of the conference, is frustrated that after three years of his club battling the mud, the Park District has not made any progress in introducing a drainage system to the cricket grounds. The QC Kings travel 200 miles from Iowa to play in Washington Park, but according to Iftikhar they are often turned away when a sodden pitch makes any sport but swimming hopeless.

A source from the MCC claimed that the Park District has given one of the MCC’S four grounds (ground one, which has the best drainage) to the American Cricket Conference (ACC) because of an old connection. “The MCC has invested in developing the land, and now the ACC is benefiting,” the source said, resigned. “And because the Park District doesn’t offer long term contracts, we never know when our land will be taken away from us.”

Sohail Bari, the president of the ACC, refuted the claims in an e-mail, writing, “Oh God, where is the justice?” He explained, “The ACC has partnered with United Cricket League (UCL) for the last four years…UCL has been at Washington Park for about 37 years and the person who runs the UCL spent the money to build these four cricket pitches.”

But it seems that the cricket conflicts are as much about manners as management. Says the MCC source, “The ACC only play for leisure and not in proper uniform.” The MCC finalists in their cricket whites, and umpired by a volunteer from the Pakistan Cricket Board, do seem as polished as any league in India or Pakistan.

But where inter-league rivalry is fierce, the sportsmanship among the players makes for a much friendlier scene. Here, cricket is the tie that binds, and during the match, resting players from both teams enjoy food from India and Pakistan. The players agree that the ethnic segregation of the teams comes about circumstantially when immigrant communities hold on to this one piece of their homelands–a game that Indian and Pakistani boys learn to play before they can tie their shoelaces. The racial division of the teams is not a product of exclusivity but of attraction; the Rogers Park team was started by a few men who moved from Pakistan together, adding family members until they had formed a squad of Pakistanis.

Although before the match Rogers Park pray to Allah while the QC Kings sit around applying sun block, all are united by their love of a sport that they first played in far away lands. The Indians and Pakistanis, conversing in Hindi and Urdu, are really here for the same reason, speaking languages only as different as American English is from the Queen’s vernacular. It seems incidental when Rogers Park wins.

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