Montgomery College Cricket Team Best in the US
By Dan Greenberg
It is one of the most popular sports in the world, but 11 Montgomery College-Rockville students cannot even find a place to play it. They smash belters on tennis courts, chase slogs in parking lots and throw googlies in between lecture halls.
Still stumped? Don't worry, they're used to it.
Though only a handful of people know it, MC's Rockville campus boasts the top-ranked cricket team in the United States. On March 23, its first-ever squad beat the University of South Florida to capture the inaugural American College Cricket Championship, held in Lauderhill, Fla.
They did so in complete obscurity. Montgomery College does not recognize cricket as a varsity sport, or even a club team.
So how did they get so good?
"All of us are from places with a cricket background: Pakistan, Bangladesh, India," said team captain Adil Bhatti, a native of Pakistan who moved to Rockville in 2000. "I feel like with the population here, there are a lot of people that play it. All of us are from this area, either Gaithersburg, Rockville, Germantown and one guy's from Silver Spring. The guys on our team, it's kind of our dream to go travel and play cricket nationally. But it was kind of difficult actually getting a team for this."
In actuality, the DC metropolitan area has one of the few thriving cricket pedigrees in the country. Most of the MC team, Bhatti for one, play weekend games in the Washington Cricket League. Established in 1974, the WCL has 28 teams and over 1,000 active members. One of its founding members is the Baltimore Cricket & Social Club, founded by Jamaican-Americans over 30 years ago, which regularly travels overseas for professional competition.
However, the man responsible for jumpstarting the MC-Rockville team neither lives in the area nor plays cricket competitively. New York resident Lloyd Jodah, president of recently formed American College Cricket, LLC, masterminded the Spring break tournament in Florida. A Guyana native who has lived in the United States for over 30 years, Jodah has long sought to cultivate his favorite sport in America.
In early 2009, he began bringing his dream to fruition, thanks in large part to the modern-day matchmaker: Facebook.com.
"The thing about cricket is that it has to be sold to people," he said. "I just looked at the situation and said one thing I could do was bring it out in colleges, to make it a school pride thing. I figured the best way to do it was announce that we are going to have the first national championship. Then having it down in Florida was another way to attract attention. You know: "We'll have fun. Cricket and spring break, how perfect."
In a matter of weeks, he had commitments from five college teams: Carnegie Mellon ( Pa.) University, South Florida, Miami ( Fla.), Boston University and MC-Rockville. Boston was the only team that existed before the tournament. Jodah also received endorsement from West Indies cricketer Shiv Chanderpaul, his country's most recent "Cricketer of the Year," who the tournament trophy was named after.
Upon hearing of the Facebook advertisement from a friend, Bhatti contacted several friends from the WCL, among them fellow Pakistani and Richard Montgomery high graduate Mohammad Kamran. Kamran wound up winning the tournament's Most Valuable Player award.
"We went to the finals and we kind of kicked their [butts]," said Kamran. "Some of us have been trying to travel to play other countries for real tough competition. Lloyd was talking about recommending us to the US National team."
The United States national cricket team, which had competed internationally since 1965, has been dormant for several years. But Jodah feels that a transcendent cricket following might be on the way, with several Montgomery College players as potential future stars.
"I was expecting the competition to range somewhere from OK to abysmal," Jodah said. "Quite honestly, the standard was extremely high. [Kamran] and Bhatti, for instance, were very good. We're hoping to have 24 teams next year, minimum. We're also trying to get cricket Olympic status for London."
According to Jodah, that is a distinct possibility. Not only was the sport invented in Great Britain, but several high-ranking members of the London Assembly, including Mayor Boris Johnson and Labor Party legislator Murad Qureshi, have strongly backed the inclusion of cricket in the 2012 Games.
Jodah also wants to see the US represented with "younger people."
The Montgomery College team would fit the bill. They, too, have Olympic aspirations. But mostly, they just want a place for bowlers, all-rounders and wicketkeepers to play on campus.
"After we came home with the trophy, I got calls from so many guys who want to play now," said Bhatti. "We want to start a club team at MC. I think once it's an Olympic sport, it's going to get so big here. Everyone will want to play."
THE GAZETTE ( www.Gazette.net)