Cricket, alive and well in Hartford, even if you don't know the rules
By MICHAEL MCGRATH, Hartford Advocate Staff Writer
October 11, 2007
The Hartford Cricket Hall of Fame was housed in the now defunct Sportsmen's Athletic Club, on the corner of Cleveland and North Main Street, uptown. It is a one-story brown building sandwiched between a busy Jamaican restaurant and a closed Caribbean grocery store. The doors are locked and there are orange parking cones in front of them. Someone has stenciled on the front of the building, "Don't get mad, get money!" Two deflated balloons hang from a railing. Across the street, I ask the woman behind the counter of the hardware store whether she knows about the Hall of Fame. She looks at me like I'm wasting her time, conditioned by other sports to imagine a Cooperstown, a Canton, even a Springfield. "There's no Hall of Fame around here," she tells me.
Despite the lack of a local physical shrine, the sport of cricket is alive and well in the city of Hartford, and never was this more evident than early Saturday morning, Oct. 6, as I tried to make heads or tails of the game while a record-breaking Indian summer burned off the fog that settled over Elizabeth Park. The TCS Hartford Cricket League was holding their championship match, following a 10-team, month-long tournament.
The league is largely made up of Indian men who live in and around Hartford while working for IT companies. These men, dressed in track pants and non-matching T-shirts, strolled down the hill from the parking lot as their teammates and opponents warmed up within the large oval marked by plastic orange cones. The match was to be played on the park's baseball field, with the pitch set up just above first base. The pitch is the central focus of the match, and consists of two three-pronged wickets placed 22 yards apart. The majority of the action takes place between these two wickets, as a "bowler" from one team hurls the ball toward the "batsman," who is stationed just in front of his team's wicket. The batsman swings, and if there is contact, the batsman runs to the second wicket. In turn, another batsman, the "non-striker," runs from the second wicket towards the first, with the two batsmen passing each other as the other team scrambles after the ball. As they switch off in the pitch, their team accumulates runs.
I had the good fortune of watching the match with a print-up of the rules hidden in my notebook, but even then I had difficulty following the rhythm of the game, or even keeping score. Luckily I also had Sathish, who sat between me and the trophies on the dugout bench, and who kept my head just above water as the Aspen Bulls took on NIIT for the TCS Championship. Sathish explained the rules to me as I looked for familiar movements; the game of cricket seems to contain elements of baseball, croquet and the shot-put, as the bowler skips and hops towards the pitch before firing a heavy ball towards the opposite end. During TCS matches a tennis ball is used, due to safety concerns, but the bowler's motion remains unchanged.
Even without a thorough understanding of cricket's rules, a spectator can appreciate the sport. There is a symmetry to the game. The hits usually resemble a bunt, or even a hard foul, but there is the occasional shot into the sky that floats over the many fielders and breaks the invisible threshold of the orange cones. There is the pop-fly, and the pressure on the fielder. Twice a sheepish man in a striped shirt caught arcing balls, and the fielders rushed toward their hero.
The players' enthusiasm was infectious as the match came down to an exciting conclusion. Sathish had told me that a tie was a possibility, and this was the first time that the sport seemed truly foreign to me, as it would to any American accustomed to watching extra innings, or sudden death shoot-outs. For a game that can last all day, it seemed important that a victor be declared. Fortunately one team did prevail, with NIIT seizing the title, and the celebration that followed would be recognizable to any sports fan. The men gathered excitedly in the center of the field, to the left of the trampled pitch. Soda cans were shaken and then let loose. Gatorade baths followed for the captains. A couple walking their dog stopped to watch the scene as it unfolded before the backdrop of Asylum Avenue. It must have looked familiar to them, even if they were clueless as to which sport had preceded it.