Chintan Oza, a right arm fast bowler for Patriots Cricket Club of Chicago. Behind him is Manish Varma, the club’s manager as well as a right arm medium pacer. At Carol Stream on August 10. (Pic: MC)
I had heard a great deal about how widespread cricket has become in the Chicago area but never really bothered to spend any time at a game. Dear friend and avid cricketer Chintan Oza invited me several times to his games but I mostly responded with polite indifference.
Having vigorously played the game for the better of my younger years, from childhood right up to 35, a jadedness about the game has set in. However, last Saturday I shed inertia and went to watch Chintan’s game at Carol Stream. My primary draw was to watch Chintan bowl because he had been bragging to me for the past several years how good he is and I had been responding with the dismissiveness of someone who had seen it all.
First the good news. Chintan can bowl and bowl very well; as well as he had claimed to me. So much so that his team’s manager Manish Varma told me that he had had to slow Chintan down in order to play in these games. As if on cue he even took a wicket during the limited time I spent watching the 30-over game, which the Patriots eventually won by a handsome margin of close to 50 runs. At 33, Chintan is much quicker than I was at that age. By that age I had to settle for the easy, ambling right arm off spin and leg spin bowling because that demanded much less run-up to the crease.
The atmosphere at the Saturday game was one of predictable bonhomie among young men united by their unbridled passion for the game. You can see that they take their game seriously. There were no spectators other than me. So the team members had to do a lot of the cheering themselves. A lot of ribbing went on with players gently critiquing each other.
There was humor but most of the off color variety came from me; someone who has the easy assurance of age on his side. I was at least 15 years older than most players. I regaled players of Pakistani origin from Chintan’s rival team with my participation in a friendly limited over match against their country’s A team in Lahore in 1993. I suspect that some of them treated my story with healthy skepticism in that they seemed to think that I may not even have visited Lahore, let alone played cricket in my life.
Coming back to cricket in the Chicago area, I am told there are more than 50 teams that play regularly. The teams are drawn from the city’s Indian, Pakistani, Sri Lankan, Australian and West Indian expatriate populations. My sense is that the teams are predominantly Indian and Pakistani. The Patriots Cricket Club appears to be a rather committed bunch of cricketers. You can tell that by their gear, score keeping, awareness of even minor rules of the game and regularity of their matches. For instance, during this particular match there was a bit of a dispute over whether one of their batsmen should be given out for “handling the ball.” Handling the ball means trying to stop the ball from hitting the wicket after a batsman has already played the stroke and has not made a full contact. Whether that handling is defined as handling by hands or also by the bat was one of the points being discussed. Eventually, he was not given out.
Chintan getting ready as the last batsman to go in
Contrary to my expectations, I did enjoy the brief time I spent at the game. Perhaps I was overstating my diminishing interest in cricket. That said, I am pretty certain I can no longer play for any length of time. I did do some bowling to Chintan but after my sixth ball I could tell that my arms had begun to pain. I think I am better off telling stories of my cricketing years to a suspecting audience.