The blokes of summer

Feature cover story for The Memphis Flyer

Oct. 3, 2013

Welcome to Memphis Cricket: 250 players, 8 teams, and the occasional sticky wicket

It’s the stuff of childhood. A boy stands in the green grass, sun on his face, dust in his eyes, and awaits that pitch to come screaming down the line. He’ll grip the bat, aligning it with anticipation and hope to get the big knock that will give his team the lead. It’s the same scene the world over, though we’re not talking baseball. This is cricket, and these are the blokes of summer.

Cricket in Memphis means weekend days filled with intense play for the nearly 250 men of the eight Memphis teams, part of the Ark-Tenn Cricket League governed by the U.S.A. Cricket Association, which is, in turn, overseen by the International Cricket Council.

It’s a Saturday morning in Bartlett, and the early September sun is already scorching the neatly clipped grass. The players for the Bartlett Youth Cricket Club (BYCC) and the Memphis Cricket Club (MCC) are prepared for the heat with oversized, floppy hats providing shade and faces slathered in sunscreen. Nearby, tennis matches are in full swing as a farmers market is set up in the parking lot. A children’s football game gets under way, and the aroma of a family reunion cookout wafts through the air. Players lounge in the shade of a portable canopy with Gatorade, bottled water, and Marlboros to trade tips and strategies in their native languages, as unfamiliar to the casual observer as a baseball catcher’s hand signals.

Sal Samana is an officeholder of the BYCC, whose members, many hailing from Pakistan, as he does, wear the green of that country’s national team. Samana makes a point to mention the city of Bartlett, saying he “appreciates the opportunity for a place to play the game.” The city, when contacted by the league, was willing to set aside the field and create a pitch for the teams to play on. Another field was created by the city of Memphis behind the Hickory Hill Community Center on Ridgeway at Winchester.

Cricket is somewhat new to Memphis, but elsewhere around the globe, there is evidence of cricket being played as early as the 16th century, sometime after Ferdinand Magellan circumnavigated the earth but before the Gregorian calendar was adopted. Its popularity was later spread throughout the British Commonwealth of Nations into every outpost under royal rule. Today, it is played by millions in 106 countries, second in world popularity only to soccer.

Photo: Justin Fox Burks

Cricket had its heyday in America in the early 1700s, when it was known as America’s pastime. Really. A match between the United States and Canada in the 1840s was attended by 10,000 fans and is regarded as the first international sporting event. It was around this time that America’s current national pastime — baseball — was invented, and its allure would soon surpass that of cricket.

Organized cricket came to Memphis in 2006. It’s a game still on the fringes in this country, yet there it is, every weekend between March and November, on the fringes of Freeman Park on Bartlett Boulevard just outside the Memphis city limits . . . (read more)