Issue 11.1: February/March 2008

Cricket, Anyone?

story by Julia Steele
photos by Sergio Goes

 

Look closely in Kapi‘olani Park and you’ll see them, all in white, among the lacrosse and soccer players and the date palms and the hardy grass. They’ll be running or maybe standing still, holding pieces of wood or maybe chasing a small ball. They’ll mention things about runs and bowls and sides in accents that come from Delhi and Dublin and Dunedin. For hours, they’ll dart, throw and thwack. And then, when their whites are closer to browns, they’ll disperse—only to gather again farther afield over lagers and ales.

It’s just another delightful Sunday for the members of the Honolulu Cricket Club, another in a long, long, long line of Sundays, for this club has the distinction of being the oldest sporting club in the Pacific, a distinction vetted by no less than the Guinness Book of World Records. The club was founded in 1893, though little—nothing, really—is remembered of those early cricket years in Honolulu. Still, how the game got here isn’t that much of a mystery: Cricket was sweeping the British Empire in the 19th century, and while Honolulu might not have been under the sway of the Union Jack, there were a number of Brits on the island—and the Hawaiian royals had forged such a strong connection with the House of Windsor that Queen Lili‘uokalani even traveled to England to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee.

Now, more than a century on, the Empire has dissolved into the Common-wealth, a loose collective of nations united by tea, curry shops, BBC News at 7—and cricket. The sport is now the second-most popular in the world, right behind soccer. There are currently some fifty members of the Honolulu Cricket Club (HCC), most of them expats from Commonwealth nations who live on O‘ahu; between them, the players represent twelve countries. The sight of them all in their whites suggests a certain uniformity, but make no mistake: This is an eclectic bunch.

For example, Owen O’Callaghan grew up playing cricket in Ireland, Jamaica and Canada and arrived in Hawai‘i after he tossed in a London-based career in international finance to make cakes in the Islands. “From banking to baking,” he says with a grin, taking a break as one of his teammates prepares to bat. Sitting next to him on a fold-out chair is Russel Freeman, introduced to cricket as a boy at school in New Zealand and still playing half a century on. “I must be the most experienced member,” he says wryly, reminiscing about games played through the decades. (“In Uganda, snakes would come out of the grass. We’d kill them and then go back to the match.”) Pankaj Bhanot learned cricket on the streets of Delhi at 7; he continued playing while getting his Ph.D. in England, on the team for the University of Nottingham, and eight years ago joined up with the HCC. Cricket, he says, is a true sport of the masses. “With one bat and one ball, twenty-two people can go at one another. It’s a very passionate sport with lots of decorum and discipline, and it requires a lot of stamina. You have to be extremely fit.” He looks the part as he makes this assertion: trim, formal, strong and keen.


 

 


Mark Berwick, one of the few Americans in the club, is its president (“a thankless job,” he claims, smiling). He grew up in Hawai‘i, started playing in college in California, moved to Australia and got seriously hooked on the game. “In cricket, there’s a deeper level of strategy that I really am drawn to,” he says, explaining the sport. It essentially works like this: There are two wickets, one at either end of a batting surface. At one end is the bowler, at the other the batsman. The bowler tries to get the batsman out, usually by tossing the ball and knocking down the wickets; the batsman tries to get as many runs as possible, a feat accomplished by hitting the ball and dashing from one wicket to the other. Each team has eleven members, and each game has a certain number of “overs” (think “innings”). At the end, the winners are the ones with the most runs. That’s only skimming the surface of a highly intricate set of rules. “I think of baseball as checkers and cricket as chess,” says Mark. “Every aspect has an added level of complexity.”

Standing in the park on a Sunday afternoon, Mark is expansive and enthusiastic. The club welcomes all comers—women, kids, “Everyone!” he says, pointing to the youngest member, who is about to bat: a 10-year-old boy with a cricket-loving Australian mother. This theme of sociability is echoed by all. “This is a cricket club, not really a cricket team,” says Owen O’Callaghan in his soft brogue. “I love being a member. It’s got a great international flavor, and when we meet up after the game, our discussions have a real international perspective.”

Standing next to him as he speaks is another resident of the global village, Bishnu Ramsarran. “Ram” grew up playing cricket in South America, in Guyana. At 17, he traveled to New York and joined the US Army. Over a twenty-eight-year career, he rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel, and all that time in the service shows in his perfect posture and to-the-point personality. Ram joined HCC in 1986, making him, with twenty-two years of playing cricket in Kapi‘olani Park, its longest member. Though his passion for the game is evident—over the years he’s organized numerous HCC matches, even against the Australian and New Zealand navies—he echoes Mark’s and Owen’s sentiments. “It’s a social club,” he says, standing in the park and, having just finished his batting, cracking open a beer.

Ram’s memories of playing the Australian and New Zealand navies underscore one of Mark’s points: The HCC plays visiting teams whenever possible. Club members also tour; last September, they returned victorious from an eight-day trip to British Columbia where, deep in the Land of Cricket, they won four out of five matches—even though as they headed out to BC, Mark was quipping that they would be packing lots of Ben Gay, ibuprofen and sports tape. In April, they’ll host a team from Australia and they’ll head back to Canada in August and then to Australia in March 2009. Back at home, they play almost year-round in the park, two or three matches a month, from mid-September to early July. And they clearly love it.

“This is the most beautiful place you can play cricket,” says kiwi Russel Freeman, the snake-killing cricketer who has played all over the globe for half a century. “There’s nowhere else in the entire world where you can play cricket year-round, nowhere. With Diamond Head on one side and the Waikiki Shell on the other”—he glances out at the ocean and smiles—“it’s a dream come true.” HH

To reach the Honolulu Cricket Club, visit www.honolulucricketclub.org or call Mark Berwick at (808)384-7292.