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Informal games keep Cricket players connected to game of their homeland

Wednesday, July 21, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 2:54 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 21, 2010
From left, Saqib Choudhry, 20, Tariq Khan, 55, Asad Khan, 34, and Nazif Ullah, 27, play cricket Sunday night at MU's Stankowski Field. Family and friends of all ages gather to play the sport whenever they can.

COLUMBIA — When Adi Babu was young and lived in India, he played cricket all the time. He would gather with a group of friends after school and compete in the ball and bat sport wildly popular in India "pretty much” every day.

However, when he was in grade school he moved to the United States and found that the interest in the sport was vastly different. In Columbia, it isn’t even possible to maintain a club team through Mizzou Club Sports.

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But as a high school student Rock Bridge, he heard about a group that meets regularly to play cricket. Although he has since discovered other groups, Babu, now a sophomore at Moberly Area Community College, still plays with that first group and has found that playing cricket has helped ease the transition to life in America.

“When I moved here in fifth grade, not many people played, and these guys were the only people,” Babu said. “It is a lovely game.”

Every weekend when the weather is warm, this same group of about 15 to 20 people, mostly of Indian or Pakistani descent, gather on Stankowski Field to play cricket. Family members and friends come to watch and often stay for the duration of the 3 to 4-hour set of matches. It is a game they grew up playing in their homeland and a game they love dearly.

“If you are playing something for 40, 45, 50 years, you really enjoy it,” Tariq Khan, 55, said. “You’re addicted to it.”

There are two to three different groups that gather to play cricket weekly. Once one group plans a meeting, they have little trouble finding interest to play from their friends.

“Whenever anyone is playing, everyone will join in that,” said Madhu Inala, a graduate student  in computer science at MU.

Early this month before the game gets started, Muhammad Hesan, an MU sophomore, is busy wrapping tennis balls in tape. The balls are used in their cricket matches and this technique prevents the hair on the tennis ball from sticking to the bat. It also enables the ball to travel faster. The new turf on Stankowski slows down the ball considerably.

The competitors also have to be careful not to hit the ball into any of the other games being played on Stankowski or any passing or parked cars along Maryland Avenue.

“If we have any other ground other than this, then we can play, but this ground we have to share with everyone,” Inala said. “It is not only our field.”

The conditions at Stankowski are far from ideal, but it is the best they have currently. Some groups play at Rock Quarry Park or at Francis Quadrangle, but Rock Quarry Park does not have lights and the quadrangle is under construction.

Four-year-old Luqman Sheth runs and hurls the ball at his father Zahir Sheth. Nearby, Khan accomplishes the same task in a similar fashion, but with his white beard blowing in the wind.

Most of the players in the games have been playing cricket since they were Luqman Sheth’s age and plan to be playing well after their own hair turns white. Cricket is a game for all ages, according to Inala, and seeing people of all different ages play is no different from when Inala played back home in India.

“In India, all the kids on Sunday would be busy with their cricket. Sometimes, they don’t have time to eat also. Even some small kids too. Even persons who are about 40 or 50 years age, they will play,” Inala said.

After the group has been playing for about an hour, play suddenly ceases. The players abruptly put down their bats and balls and most of them gather at the center of the field to pray. Most of the players in this group are of the Muslim faith and they have stopped to pray in order to adhere to the five pillars of Islam religion.

Immediately afterward, things get back to normal quickly. The cricket players get up and resume their games as if they were still over in their native countries.


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