Sports  Life on the pitch

A look at McGill’s cricket community

In recent years, a man nicknamed Chacha (Urdu for “uncle”) Cricket has garnered worldwide media attention for his devotion to the game of cricket. A bearded 59-year-old fan who once sold his 1.5 million rupee home to subsidize his obsession, Chacha Cricket is paid 10,000 rupees by the Pakistan Cricket Board every month just to tag along with the nation’s cricket team and drum up excitement.

“That’s how big cricket is in Pakistan,” explained Shreryar Rasool, a U1 Economics student hoping to play cricket at McGill. “I don’t think any other country has an example of such a loyal cricket fan.” One could debate who the world’s biggest cricket fan is. But there is no doubt that the baseball-like sport played on large oval fields and with bats reminiscent of paddles has fans across the globe. While it remains relatively unpopular in North America, the International Cricket Council has 104 member nations and the 2007 Cricket World Cup sold nearly 700,000 tickets. The sport has even inspired a community of fans and players at McGill. Both the McGill Cricket Club (MCC) and the Bangladeshi Cricket Team (BCT) allow students to participate in cricket games on campus. Abu Sayem, a McGill ’08 alum who works with the University’s Centre for Research on Children and Families, has been playing since he was 6 and taking formal lessons since he was in grade 9. Sayem, who grew up in Bangladesh, helped form the BCT in 2005 after meeting members of the Bangladeshi Students Association who played the game.

“Since we have been playing this [game] since our childhood, it’s like a seed inside us,” said Sayem. “Wherever we go, we want to play. We grew up with cricket. There are a lot of memories around it, of winning, of being victorious,” Sayem added.

Aside from some gear donated by the Bangladeshi Students Association in 2007, the BCT buys all its own equipment. They try to hold games four days a week during the summer and early fall.

The MCC gained SSMU club status in 2008, and has continued to attract interest from McGill students from all around the world, including several from the West Indies, England, South Asia, and Kenya. But that doesn’t mean the group’s had an easy time finding places to play. Instead, they resort to using the entrance of the Fine Arts Core Education School opposite the Adams building, as well as some less-than-ideal spots on campus.

“McGill is very small and we don’t have a proper field,” said Sayem. “All we have is the lower field. Throughout the summer the rugby field is closed and in winter it is impossible to play cricket.” Sayem also noted the team has played at the reservoir field, but that the grass is sometimes too long.

The club organizes tournaments twice a semester – usually at the beginning of the fall semester and at the end of the winter semester. Each tournament attracts around 60 players, approximately seven on each team.

The group plays its own variation of cricket using custom rules and a tennis ball covered in electrical tape. And since cricket games can last up to five days, they opt for shorter matches.

The MCC tries to accommodate all players interested in participating. When the games take place can also depend on people’s academic schedules. The club’s Vice-President of Communications, Varum Sharma, U3 Chemical Engineering, uses Facebook in order to keep in touch with players. A large number of cricket fans and players at McGill have a connection to South Asia, where cricket is a major pastime. Despite the game’s introduction in the Indian subcontinent in the 19th century by British colonists, the game has found widespread popularity in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. In India, there is even a 24-hour sports network, STAR Cricket, devoted to around-the-clock coverage of the game.

MCC President Usman Khalid, originally from Pakistan (U3 Electrical Engineering) said, “People are passionate about cricket. It’s like if you go to Europe you see soccer everywhere. It’s the same. Cricket is the soccer of Southeast Asia.”