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Why cricket in California?

People have been playing cricket in LA since 1888

Blame it on the English. It’s Dr. Frankenstein’s fault, too. But nobody thinks of the fog-shrouded atmosphere of Mary Shelley’s book, it’s better to focus on the Californian sunshine. Well, that all seems confusing enough in itself. But, since complicating life seems to be the norm, here’s the ingredient that was missing if we like things somehow not quite to fit: cricket. It’s an Anglo-Saxon sport. Seems to make sense.

The games last even up to four days, the rules can resemble those of baseball, and yet they have nothing to do with baseball. And so, why the United States? And, why California? And above all, why monsters and vampires? One thing at a time, though.

People have been playing cricket in Los Angeles since 1888. Not exactly yesterday. Right … but it’s all basketball there, many will say. Or American football (not too much, actually). And so? Blame it on the English. It was they who started growing or- anges here to export to Europe, and to do so they brought pounds, shillings and pence and their island customs. Cricket, to be precise. During their leisure hours they would play tennis at the Casino Club in Santa Monica and rent cabins on the beach. There were dances and citrus fruits, with money no object. And when Henry Huntington founded the Pacific Electric Railroad, that’s when things could really be seen to be on the move. Because it was now possible to travel for just a few dollars, and as such playing away games was no longer just an idea, but a reality.

God bless the train. And God “bless” the 1906 earthquake, too. San Francisco collapsed and everyone moved south – including the cricket players. It was the start of a golden age for them, as they busied themselves with their (flat) bat and cricket ball. Then comes the First World War and, with it, the first enemy of Californian cricket: King Gillette. Yes, the inventor of the razor blade. The mogul buys the grounds used for cricket in Santa Monica to set up his factory, and the team in question finds itself without a home. But the seed, by now, is well planted and the ivy spreads everywhere. Even to Hollywood, even among the actors of the time. And that brings us back to Frankenstein.

Let’s put things differently, let’s talk about William Henry Pratt, aka Boris Karloff. He’s a legendary film actor who rose to fame for playing the lead role in James Whale’s Frankenstein. Good old Boris, when he wasn’t cast as the giant made up of body parts, was a great cricket fan. And it was this passion of his that gave the decisive impetus to the sport’s popularity as a pastime and made it glamorous overnight, because there was nothing more appealing than rubbing shoulders with the movie stars.

The Southern California Cricket Association was just about in business by then. If you want to be pedantic, the Metropolitan League in New York turns out to be older, but what federation can boast as much in common with the Oscars as the SCCA? Well, the Hollywood Cricket Club’s Christmas party is held in the Roosevelt Hotel, that’s where the post-Oscar ceremony party has always been hosted …

In this context, you play a real championship – actually five real championships: from the first to the fifth division. And the players are paid like real professionals. Because Americans love to do things seriously when it comes to sports. And not just sports. But seeing as we like mavericks, here are the stories of those who have little to do with a movie camera and with the wealthy turn-of-the-century bourgeoisie. Cricket, as we’ve said, is an English thing.

And, by osmosis, it can also be said to belong to the populations that the English have been in contact with in their centuries of domination. That’s why we talk about it as a national sport in India and Pakistan. That’s why Indians and Pakistanis feel they are the custodians of the faith and that’s why it’s no coincidence that they are recruited for every cricket championship in the world. Even in Southern California, obviously.

Where, however, there’s room for anyone who wants to have a go at this sport. Cal- Bel, for example – a name that says it all: California and Belize. Because the players come from precisely that part of the Caribbean. There were 27 of them, in April 1980, and they created the team. There are playing members and supporting members: the former pay a fee of $27, in honor of the number of founding fathers; the latter pay whatever they want, just to support everything.

But since Belize is the least cricket-addicted of the former colonies, they have decided that two thirds of the team must be natives of what was formerly British Honduras, while the remaining third of the roster is open to “foreign” players who can boost the level of the team. And they can joyfully attend the legendary Christmas barbecue, which is what makes playing in this setting so unique. An eccentric team, even in the way they play; in fact, their batting style is called “bush cricket” by their detractors. An unorthodox style that sets them apart and makes them unique.

The boys of the Caribbean Cricket Club are one of a kind as well. They too take great pride in letting you know where they come from. The team was started in 1969 by a group of players from the West Indies, who had learned their cricket by turning out for the Del Monte Cricket Club. There’s no helping it, you can’t leave the state’s plant wealth out of it for long. Unlike the Cal-Bel team, however, there are no minimum quotas for West Indian-born players: “We accept anyone who wants to play West Indies-style cricket.” That’s the club’s mantra.

They call it Calypso Cricket, and this definition sums up the entire philosophy of this club. Famous for its spirit of bonhomie, with dancing to raise money, music and a per- sistent desire to mix a gentleman’s discipline with a typical Caribbean sense of fun. A mood that produces results, given that they play in the first division and that they’ve also put some silverware in the trophy cabinet. Even if their real claim to lasting fame is the Back ah de bus Posse, the true twelfth man on the field. A group of supporters who are particularly colorful, leaving their mark on every game with their desire to let loose on the sidelines.

From the mists of the British Isles to the colors of the Caribbean, from Mr. Gillette to the Santa Monica sunshine. It’s California-style cricket, baby, and you can’t do anything but dance!

Credits

PH Jeremy Jackson
TEXT Francesco Costantino Ciampa

 

February 26, 2020

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