On a hot mid-summer day, teenage boys dressed in jeans and t-shirts rush out of their homes and crowd together in the neighborhood park. Equipped with bats, balls, wickets and gloves, these boys come together to spend their afternoon playing cricket and bond through their game. This is the scene in one neighborhood in Lahore, Pakistan.
On another cool, sunny day in Galesburg, Ill., a small group of students camp out in front of the CFA lawn with their limited amount of equipment to play cricket for a few hours. These students are Pakistani, Indian and Nepalese. Yet again, cricket is the sport bringing them together.
Knox College’s Cricket Club was founded in 2013 by senior Srikaran Masabathula from India, who was then a freshman at Knox. The club started off with five members and was just recreational at that time. Since then, the Cricket Club has grown significantly, especially with the South Asian-heavy Class of 2020.
“For me, it wasn’t just recreational. For some other students it also wasn’t recreational. In South Asia, most of the kids spend their evenings playing cricket and many even think of it as a career. The club is a mix of both at this point Ñ fun and passion,” Masabathula said. “There is cricket in America but mostly in bigger universities and the quality is also not like back at home.”
Even having a little bit of cricket on campus makes Knox feel like home for members of the club. In order to raise awareness about Cricket Club, the members play in front of CFA in full public view at least two days a week. Their winter location is the Fieldhouse on Fridays from 7-9 p.m.
When it started off, the Cricket Club hosted a barbecue event to get the word out about the club. However, now that it has grown enough to form its own team, the club is more focused on the game and training their players. Last term, the team self-funded one match against Western Illinois University. Even though the players didn’t bag a victory, it was a step in the right direction for them. Going to a match allowed them to see how other universities play cricket in America.
“For us, it is a challenge to play cricket here. We don’t play with proper leather balls and we don’t have a cricket field with a traditional pitch. Our funding was also recently granted. We recognize that they have done their part and appreciate the support we have received so far from the Senate,” junior Mohaimen Naseer Butt said.
Like Butt, whose home is in Pakistan, Masabathula finds it difficult to deal with the differences.
“It is a bit challenging to manage the equipment, matches and trips with just a little amount of funding. I understand that small clubs receive a limited budget, but some organizations are involved in activities that require more financial support. I think there should be some accommodation for swiftly growing organizations,” Masabathula said.
According to Masabathula, for many men from South Asia, cricket is what their lives have been about.
It is socially considered a sport that is only good enough to play for fun. In a culture where profitable careers are [sought after], passionate cricket players face a lot of backlash and opposition if they pursue the sport as a career. For many international students present at Knox, this has been a defining dilemma in their lives: they must choose between their passion for cricket and the security of a more practical job.
“I’m glad in some way we also have a space at Knox to express ourselves and to educate people about this part of our culture and identity. We are very welcoming as a club and team. There are people who watch the game when we play and are interested to know more. We always explain the game and include our non-South Asian friends in it,” says Masabathula.
For international students like Butt, the ability to play cricket in an American college develops a unity among students from various South Asian countries and helps them make connections with other students on campus.
“Playing cricket at Knox gives a homely feel. I’ve talked to Americans over here and they find cricket very similar to baseball so they play every now and then. It feels good to have a space to play our own game in the states and with Americans,” Butt said.
Pakistan and India are two major cricket rivals, akin to the Chicago Blackhawks and the St. Louis Blues in the NHL. The rivalry between both countries when the international teams play official matches culminates in an adrenaline-fueled experience.
Interestingly, Cricket Club at Knox has become a space where students from Pakistan and India play together on one team. They bond over the techniques of the game rather than being on traditionally opposing sides.
“We have regular bonding sessions. We’re always in the caf, sitting together, eating, commenting on each other’s game. So really, some aspects of playing cricket are similar to other sports on campus and in America,” Butt said.
After Spring Term, Masabathula will graduate from Knox. While the club has plans to play more matches with other universities and expand cricket club, the organization is facing the challenges of a new executive board and funding cricket equipment and games. The club members think it is interesting to see how just one international sport entwines students from various cultures together and provides more meaning to diversity in Knox’s one community.