In a country like the US where sports such as baseball, football and basketball have massive fan followings, cricket may not register in the minds of the people as more than a garden insect.
In Houston, however, home to a vibrant South Asian population, things are different.
We’re standing in a field used for playing cricket by various teams on the outskirts of the city, where players are kitted out in white uniforms, and the calls of “good shot” and “out!” resonate every now and then. This is where we’re meeting the Karachi Cricket Club (KCC), a team that started out nearly six years ago and has garnered a reputation for being the go-to group for the cricket crazy.
Riaz Ahmed, a Pakistani expat settled in Houston for the last 15 years, is the man behind this team. When he arrived in the US for his education, he sorely missed playing cricket like he had in the streets and playgrounds of Karachi. His brother Saifuddin Ahmed, who is now the captain of the team, was living in Dallas at the time and introduced him to people who were playing night cricket in the area. “I knew Riaz really liked cricket,” he says. “We started exploring and found out that there were a few people here playing night cricket. Riaz has been in touch with them ever since.”
Riaz shows off the different types of balls his team uses. One, in particular, is lighter than the regular tape ball used by cricket players on the streets of Karachi. He explains that playing with the regular, heavier ball is physically too taxing for players in the month of Ramazan,
The KCC was born when a team of Indians began organising tournaments and the Ahmed brothers decided to form their own team to enter the events. “Most of the players were from Karachi so that’s why we kept that as the name,” says Saifuddin.
The men come primarily from different localities in Karachi — Gulshan-i-Iqbal, North Nazimabad and Clifton — with only a few from outside the city. But given the large number of immigrants settling in Houston — many of them from cricketing nations — others have expressed their interest in joining the club and use the KCC website as a resource. “We’ve had people contact us from other countries,” says Saifuddin Ahmed, “and we have managed to play 20-25 people so far.”
Currently, the KCC participates in two major tournaments held in Houston every year.
Cricket in the US has failed to take off at the international level. Even while there is an official US cricket team that consists of Pakistani and Indian players settled in the US, it has been unable to register so much as a blip on the international cricketing radar: it has failed to qualify for the World Cup, and has only played two international one-day matches so far.
Nevertheless, cricket thrives in desi pockets across the US, and Houston is not the only city where itt is played. In the state of Virginia, also home to a large Pakistani expat community, Pakistani cab drivers often boast about their on-field cricketing prowess to desi passengers. Cricket is also played, but on a much smaller scale, among Pakistanis in many other states. None of the fledgling teams, however, are as organised as the Houston-based KCC.
Armaghanul Jamil, who moved to Houston 11 years ago from Karachi and regularly plays cricket, says his family and friends are surprised when they hear about the sport being played here. But given the diverse group of communities from South Asia and the Caribbean, it is not surprising that cricket is followed here with a passion. “There are more cricket grounds here than I think even Karachi has!” he exclaims.
He may be right, given that Houston has at least 10 major cricket grounds, where teams of different nationalities practice and play against each other.
But what worries Riaz is that cricket may die out if the game is not followed with the same fervour by the next generation of American desis. As for him, he’s certainly doing his part to make sure this doesn’t happen and his young son and niece practise their cricket skills while we chat in the field. The young boy seems to have a natural hold on the bat, despite the fact that it seems almost his equal in weight.
“I’m coaching my son, and some of my friends’ children have also started playing,” he says. “We have to keep cricket and our legacy alive, and we hope that the future generation will also play this game.”
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, August 19th, 2012.
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