WEST CHESTER, Ohio - The fastest means to success in sports isn’t always on a field or court. Sometimes all it takes is a pen, some paper and maybe a spreadsheet or two.
In the span of 10 years, the Cincinnati Cricket Club i has grown from a casual group of friends into one of the elite cricket clubs in the state.
The key? Organization, organization, organization.
“That involved doing all of the dirty work,” said Jerome Fernandes, a Hamilton Township resident who is in charge of membership, finance and communications for the club. “We secure sponsorships. We secure funding. We spend wisely. We have a good name in the Midwest cricketing circle, not because we win but because we do things the right way. We’re not just a mom-and-pop club. We have processes for everything.”
If that sounds intense that’s because it is. These guys put a ton of their own time into making the club a success, fitting cricket into their tight schedules during the warm weather months, alongside careers and families.
An international club
The vast majority of the club members hail from India. Cricket is immensely popular on the Indian subcontinent – including India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.
“In India cricket is such a popular sport,” said Niranjan Deshpande, who came to Cincinnati for grad school at UC. “You can have a pickup game in a matter of minutes. We would have three or four games going on side by side.”
So when many natives of the subcontinent area arrive in Cincinnati for careers or school, cricket often serves as a way for them to build community.
“It bridges the gap of trying to meet other people,” said Mathew Varghese, who--like Fernandes--is on the 2014 organizing committee for the club. “Culturally, Indians, we don’t go to maybe social settings like bars or places like that to make friends. So you try to make friends in a more comfortable environment. I think cricket provides that.”
That social aspect was the genesis of the Cincinnati Cricket Club, an informal group of people who enjoyed playing cricket during weekends.
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“It was 2002,” Varghese said. “We had a plan. I used to play in India. Why not form a team here? So we started playing some games.”
Bit of a sticky wicket
In 2003, when Fernandes joined, the group often struggled to field a full 11-man team for competitions. The results at those competitions were predictable.
“When we started participating in tournaments, we came across a lot of teams that had been around for a long time,” Fernandes said. “We would win some games, but we’d lose more often than not.”
Gradually, though, things improved. With a greater focus on the club infrastructure, membership boomed and the wins soon followed.
Last season proved to be the club’s crowning achievement. The Cincinnati Cricket Club swept all three of the major 2013 Midwest tournaments.
“Last year was a big year for our club,” Fernandes said. “That was a big achievement for us.”
Origins of the game
Cricket dates back to 16th Century England, though some historians trace a bat-and-ball game similar to cricket all the way back in the Dark Ages. Its popularity spread around the world through the British Empire.
Very clearly the sport was a strong influence on America’s pastime, baseball. Consider that cricket features teams of 11 taking turns at bat (called innings) and attempting to score runs by using a flat wooden bat to hit a ball.
In fact, the Cincinnati Cricket Club often played on local baseball fields, before finding a home at Voice Of America Park in West Chester. The club has been playing there for more than 10 years now. It has proved a perfect fit.
“They gave us a nice piece of land and we are very grateful to MetroParks (of Butler County) and VOA for that,” Varghese said.
The club takes care of maintaining and mowing the property, often sharing the area with a local model plane club and, of course, the occasional onlooker.
“They can see us play from afar and they’ll stop and watch,” Fernandes said. “They get quizzical. We’re more than happy to explain the sport to them. We do a bit of self-promotion."
The club now boasts 54 members. They practice three nights a week and travel most weekends to matches and tournaments around the region, often sending three different teams.
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United on the field
While nearly all of the members are from India, their backgrounds vary greatly. India is such a huge country, and the club members come from different regions. Occasionally, that has presented different challenges: language barriers, cultural differences, even different regional approaches to the sport of cricket. All of that subsides, though, when the players join forces on the field.
“There’s something about playing the game,” Fernandes said. “It doesn’t really matter where the other guy is from: north, south, east, west. If he can whack that ball out and he’s a good player, I think people can get along. We have this one thing in common and that’s the game, and I think that trumps everything.”
The club continues to reach out to the Cincinnati-born community. Fernandes and Varghese have done youth clinics, as well as introductory presentations at offices and schools around town. They welcome newcomers to the sport at practice with softballs, as opposed to the more challenging leather hardballs.
“It becomes one big family,” Fernandes said. “That’s pretty much how we like to run the club, as a family. Keep things running as a tight ship and we see the rewards in the end.”
(Photos courtesy of Jerome Fernandes)