Feature

Pitch Perfect Cricket

St. Columba's Cricket Club keeps the game alive on our side of the pond

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Since 1993, the St. Columba’s Cricket Club has helped ensure that a sporting hint of this country’s colonial past remains something other than a sticky wicket. Cricket, venerable pastime of the British Empire, is played here from late spring to early fall on a green and graceful field along Howland Avenue in Middletown. Named for the nearby Episcopal Church, the St. Columba’s Cricket Club was founded by the late Tony Fairchild, a British-born former yachting correspondent for The Daily Telegraph who settled in Newport and sought to promote cricket in Rhode Island. He was a parishioner at St. Columba’s church.

Where to Play

The cricket matches are played on property owned by Dr. Lewis Arnow, a retired pediatrician, who also lives on Howland Avenue adjacent to the field. The home ground, in cricket parlance, is near the Norman Bird Sanctuary on Third Beach Road. Arnow, a social member of the cricket club, allows the club to use his field at no cost, and contributes toward the sport’s continued presence by making sure the expanse is mowed. Cricket club members, in turn, fertilize and roll the property.

Arnow has taken one other significant step to assist the club and future of the sport in Middletown: he’s been in negotiations with the Aquidneck Land Trust (ALT) to secure a conservation easement for 12 acres of his land, including the portion used by the cricket club.

“The site is directly south of Silvia Farm, another property conserved by ALT, and is part of the Sakonnet Greenway, a swath of ALT conserved lands on the eastern side of the island,” says the land trust’s announcement about the negotiations for the easement. “ALT’s work conserving properties like Arnow in this greenway provides a connected corridor of wildlife habitat and scenic open space that will remain undeveloped in perpetuity. The property is also partly within one of the Island’s drinking supply watersheds, furthering ALT’s mission to improve water quality on the Island through protection of open space in key watersheds.”

Arnow, who will retain ownership of the property, says the cricket club will be allowed to play on the field as long as it wishes. “If [the property] were sold to a private party, anything could happen,” says Arnow.

How It’s Done

Aspects of cricket, which was first played in England at least five centuries ago, are familiar to anyone schooled in baseball: A bowler (pitcher), batsman (batter), leather (and wood) ball, fielding and throwing, and a wealth of greenscape. Distinctive are the wooden wickets, 11 players on each team, a circular playing field and a pitch, the central grassy strip on which the bowler delivers the ball. When wet, this is known as a sticky wicket. The goal is to score the most runs, which may total in the hundreds, and games may last five or so hours. Time – the rather leisurely passage of it – is particular to cricket, even with contemporary baseball games lasting three or so hours. However, there are different types of cricket, and lately a shorter version has been put in play in an effort to keep matches to a mere three and a half hours.

Get to Know the Players

Players on the St. Columba’s Club, as with most of the clubs against whom St. Columba’s plays, are mostly from India, Pakistan and the West Indies. The 2015 club also includes an American – Chuck Zalewski, the keeper (or catcher), who lives in Fall River, and is a veteran player with the club. In past years, players have hailed from Australia, England, Nepal and South Africa.

A recent match in Middletown was against the Eagle Cricket Club from the Massachusetts State Cricket League, to which St. Columba’s now belongs. St. Columba’s also plays against clubs from Connecticut and New York and in the past has traveled to Vermont and Montreal to compete.

Amitabh Sheth, who lives in North Kingston and is a bowler for the club, says cricket equipment, not readily stocked at local sporting goods stores, is available online. Bedessee Sports, in Brooklyn, is also a resource. Team members, he says, often buy equipment when they visit their homelands, mainly India and Pakistan.

Matches are played on weekends from late April through early October, with the annual St. Columba’s Cricket Club Invitational Tournament staged in September. Most matches are one-day affairs. St. Columba’s also takes pride in wearing traditional whites for two-day “test” matches played once every month. The standard five-day test match is not practical. “We all work,” says Amit Sheth.

Post Match Festivities

After each match, the host club members serve tea, lunch and beverages to the visiting team. Lentils and rice, or khichdi, were served after the Wrentham match, and, as the St. Columba’s online profile explains, members often cook up other specialties such as egg curry, pav bhaji and chana masala, vegetarian and non-vegetarian biryanis and Pakistani and West Indian barbecues.

Hilarius Stephen, an accountant in Providence who lives in Westport, is from St. Lucia in the West Indies and has been playing cricket since he was seven. St. Lucia was a British colony and cricket was introduced to the island by the Brits. He migrated to the US in 2005, bringing with him West Indian recipes and spices to enhance St. Columba’s tastier offerings. He says he is known for “West Indian Curry Chicken, which is totally different from the Indian Curry Chicken, and Jerk Chicken with peas and rice.”

But what the club serves up best is its devotion to this rigorously tranquil game. As the St. Columba by-laws say, the focus is: “To promote social interaction of all with a common interest in the game of cricket; The organization and maintenance of an active cricket side in the Rhode Island area; To conduct ourselves and our play in the spirit of cricket and respect for our opponents; To encourage and improve the play of our members; Excellence in the game of cricket.”