A tiny cricket league has become the biggest Guyanese community organization in Schenectady, turning Central Park into the gathering point for hundreds of immigrants as they watch the games every Sunday.
When the six-month season kicks off this weekend, league organizers expect more than 150 Guyanese and Trinidadian immigrants at the park. And that’s just the athletes — their families and friends fill the grassy slopes, hosting picnics and barbecues as they cheer for their teams.
“It’s so exciting. On a Sunday there’s so much people, it’s so big — there are some people I would never have met, Guyanese people living in Schenectady that I would never have known were here without the league,” Guyanese cricket player Edward Jaikiffhun said.
Everyone seems to come to the matches, both those of African descent and of Indian descent. All three major religions — Hindu, Muslim and Christian — are well represented.
“It has brought the Guyanese together,” said league President Onkar Singh. “Cricket is part of Guyanese culture. Religion doesn’t really play a part.”
Their passion for the game is absolute. For them, there is no secondary sport — no football, baseball or basketball.
“From the time you have sense as a boy, from the time you hold a ball, you want to play cricket,” Singh said. “I love everything about cricket. I played organized cricket since age 12. I come to live in Schenectady, there was no cricket.”
The game is so popular that the Guyanese who immigrated to Queens have formed 120 teams in their league. But with no teams up here, the Guyanese who moved to Schenectady a decade ago literally carpooled back to Queens every Sunday just to play.
That ended when Singh moved up here and learned that his best chance of playing involved a six-hour round-trip car ride every weekend.
His friend, Tarchand Lall, was running a Schenectady team that played in Queens. He tried to recruit Singh.
“I mentioned to him if I have to go to Queens every Sunday, I’m going to stick with my team in Queens,” Singh said.
The two agreed to a compromise: recruiting dozens more players to start their own Schenectady league. When the league began three years ago, it had four teams, Lall said. By the end of that first season, there were eight teams.
“All from Schenectady,” he said.
The league plays softball cricket, unlike the hardball version played in the U.K. Hardball has been known to cause serious injuries; Jaikiffhun once needed six stitches when a ball hit him in the chin.
The team he played with still exists in Schenectady, but softball cricket is far more popular, possibly because it is more often played in Guyana. Guyanese claim to have invented that version of the game, although British World War II soldiers and Australians make that claim as well.
With the growing popularity in Schenectady, city officials have briefly discussed building cricket fields. The teams are discouraged from using the city’s best baseball fields because they must dig holes in the field for their wickets.
League members want to buy their own field and erect a clubhouse that children could use for after-school tutoring as well as cricket lessons.
“There’s a big problem getting fields,” Singh said. “We want a place to call our own.”
Until then, Central Park is the place to be.
For those who aren’t familiar with cricket, it essentially involves a batter earning runs by hitting a ball. The only way to get the batter out is for the pitcher — or bowler — to hit one of the three wickets set up behind the batter. A good batter can play for days, although many matches now include a time limit to avoid that.
The lengthy matches lend themselves to a relaxed atmosphere, and many Guyanese families eat lunch and dinner at the park while watching. Generally, Schenectady games end by 6 p.m.