Cricket: The (Caribbean) American Pastime

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John Adams once said that if president was a good enough title for the head of a cricket club, it was good enough for the leader of a country.

Cricket has been around in America since the Founding Fathers. The USA - Canada annual cricket match is in fact the oldest international sporting event in the world. But for most Americans, cricket is a joke - Robin Williams once called it baseball on Valium. But for a significant proportion of New York's Caribbean population nothing could be further from the truth. Judith Kampfner reports.

Kampfner: I've always thought of cricket as a sedate gentlemen's game, white flannels, long languid over arm bowling, lots of strategy but little action. Softly spoken commentators with poetic descriptions. At my recent introduction to West Indian cricket in the Canarsie neighborhood of Brooklyn, the solemn commentator was there all right. He made quaint references to the cerulean sky and batting with aplomb

Commentator: There's a cerulean sky with some cloud cover

Kampfner: but the difference was that there was no hushed silence. People constantly blocked his view and chatted around him.

Men in crowd: Lovely shot. Beautiful baby

Kampfner: Cricket played West Indian style is a revelation. This is not the sexless sober game that is it in England. - The players wear figure hugging red and white uniforms and there's a block party atmosphere. You could be on a West Indian island. Ocean vegetation walls this secluded field at Sea view Park and 88th. You can't hear the Belt Parkway on the other side of the 12 feet high grasses... Stars from the West Indies team, past and present, have come to play with locals in a benefit game...About 5,000 people sit on rough bleachers or the grass. . Spectators eagerly volunteer information

Spectator: It's the game that's closest to life. It demands discipline to play a whole day you have to sustain that level of intensity.

Kampfner: cricket they tell me is the second most played sport in the world after soccer, 22 nations play it. But it's the Caribbean countries that feed into the game as it's played in Brooklyn

Spectator 3: Jamaica, Guyana, St Lucia, St Vincent, Barbados and Trinidad

Q: the celebrity players who are they?

Spectator 3: Well you have the present West Indian captain Brian Lara and then you have Joel Garner, he is bowling right now.

Kampfner: Joel Garner is known as Big Bird, he's about 7'3 they say and they say he has an arm span of 15 feet and Brian Lara - he is the opposite in size and he's known the Prince of Trinidad

Calypso song plays: Hail Capt Lara, your road was long, Hail Capt Lara, you are small but you are strong

Commentator: Brian Lara captain of the team comes forward the batsman gets three runs he's out

Kampfner: Since the commentator was speaking to the initiated, people tried to help me by offering comparisons to baseball, explaining the status of Brian Lara for example

Spectator 1: Brain Lara he's the Mickey Mantle of cricket.

Spectator 2: Here you have 7 different ways to get them out. In baseball you see the people making funny signals and signs, here you don't make signs, it's like a cat and mouse game between batsman and bowler.

Kampfner: it's a full day of solid play from 11 - 6, but there's continuous eating and drinking. Rum and Coca Cola, Vodka and Ginger ale.

Spectator 1: It's very festive. There's goat curry, jerk chicken, ice buckets, families, this reminds me of Jamaica.

(Kampfner asks) what were you eating just now?
Young Guyanese men: Duck curry and dhal -- we cooked it -
(Kampfner asks) and are you going to have more at lunchtime?
Young Guyanese men: yes we planned this. Do you want some?

Kampfner: At lunchtime people dance to music from a portable system. The cricket commentary, which has the most lasting impact, comes through song. In the calypsos which originated in Trinidad. Since the 1920's calypsonians have been telling the stories of famous games and lamenting their favorite players not getting picked for the international West Indian team.

Spectator 2: Oh music for West Indian cricket, I'd say its part of it, without music there's no cricket, especially in Trinidad with calypso music.
Q: what's your favorite calypso?
Spectator 2: oh cricket in the jungle. Song Cricket in the Jungle plays
Q: And any more?
Spectator 2: Oh there's Cricket Lovely Cricket

Song Cricket Lovely Cricket plays

Kampfner: All last week there were calypso performances in Brooklyn preparing for the Labor Day carnival. Famous calypsonians come to New York from the Caribbean. The most popular cricket calypsos work on 2 levels like the double entendre in this song.

Song Hit It plays

Kampfner: from The Mighty Gabby from Barbados who had hit called Hit It.

The Might Gabby: When I did my song it was to bring spice to the game of cricket and bring attention to the game, it was tremendously popular in the Caribbean.

Song Hit It plays

Kampfner: Perhaps cricket calypsos will bring more attention to the game. There will be an exhibition of the history of calypsos in Brooklyn next summer and cricket calypsos will be featured. The cricket fraternity in Brooklyn is becoming more commercially aware. Guinness and Red Stripe sponsor the big matches. And the larger community is taking note. The local paper The Canarsie Courier has been publishing cricket scores all summer for the first time in an effort to get more West Indian readers There are plans to build a stadium at Floyd Bennett Field and perhaps to host a game at the 2007 cricket World Cup.

For WNYC I'm Judith Kampfner

More on Calypso music
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