By Peter Simunovich
Fontana Field: Just what the doctor ordered
When Asif Ahmad decided to buy and build his own field in Fontana, California, a one-hour drive east of Los Angeles, he went the whole nine yards or in cricket terms, the full 22 yards, the length of a cricket pitch.
The pitch at the Fontana field
The Fontana Cricket Ground sits on five acres of land, has a pavilion, four turf pitches in the center square of the field, the practice nets have three turf wickets, a bowling machine and there are another two concrete pitches that are used during winter.
For those who visit and watch games, says Asif, it reminds them of an English cricket field. But there is a lot more to this than just a nice ground in pleasant surroundings.
More than four years ago Asif made a trip to Melbourne, Australia, and visited the Melbourne Cricket Ground, commonly known as the MCG, then later to Gadaffi Stadium in Lahore, Pakistan, to talk to the groundsmen and get samples of clay that help make up the turf wickets at the two famous cricket stadiums.
Upon his return, he had them analyzed by an engineer, who worked with a brick company.
The pitches in the nets are 90 percent clay and the wickets on the field are 80 percent clay, said Asif, 53, a physician who moved to the United States from Lahore in 1985.
The Fontana outfield is a cricketer's dream!
Asif used hydro seeding as top soil rather than sods, which, he said, made the wickets spongy. "The pitches are very quick," he told DreamCricket.com.
The field has a pavilion, which is really a 1,200 sq. ft. house, built above ground level to give players a better view of the field. The pavilion has two bedrooms, two bathrooms each with a shower and toilet for the players to use on game days.
Dr. Asif Ahmad - Creator of Fontana field
The front of the house is all glass so players can watch the game from inside. Overall, the field is just what the doctor ordered.
Asif played cricket in Multan as a fast bowler while studying at medical school and while he wasn't destined for a first class career he was "quite passionate about the game," he recalled.
When he came to the US he found everything he wanted except cricket, and there was a period from 1985 to 1998 where there was little cricket, there were some games, but no international matches to watch on TV.
"I missed it," he said.
In 2004 Asif began a youth program with the City of La Mirada on a field with tall grass. But he wanted more. A patient told him about a piece of land and after taking a look at it he bought the five acres for about $1 million.
Nina Ahmad - Heavily involved with
Citrus Valley Cricket Club
"It was vacant land with an old shed, I think it was a chicken farm at some point. It was very dirty at the time," he said. Asif went to the local council and it was very helpful as he talked about developing a cricket field.
He had dreamed for years about having his own field so he could start an academy to teach cricket to the youth in the area. The academy has between 60 and 70 aged from eight to 18 coached at a high quality level by Mumtaz Yosuf, a former spin bowler who played Test cricket for Sri Lanka. He later coached Sri Lanka and also coached in Australia.
"It is highly skilled cricket," said Asif. "I want to give back to the kids." The academy is made up mainly of players from India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
"We have a few American kids, but we have found that when they go home cricket stops. They have nobody to talk to about the game or to watch it on TV. The others can go home and talk about the game with their family or watch games on TV," he said.
For Asif, the field is special to him and his family - his wife, Nina, and two sons, Salman, 17, and Shakeel, 14. "We can enjoy it," he said.
Salman, an all rounder, and Shakeel, a leg spinner, have the potential, says Asif, to play at first class level. "We are working with them every day," he said.
Last year Salman represented the South West California Region Under 19 team and will repeat again this summer and Shakeel will do the same with the Under 15 team.
"When I look at the field I feel very satisfied," said Asif. "It is a true cricket field. The pitches are of a high standard, there are nets to practice. It is a breeding ground for cricket. There is a lot of satisfaction and my wife is heavily involved."
The Citrus Valley Cricket Club, which is made up of Under 18 and older cricketers, play on the field during the Southern California Cricket Association season and youth teams from age 10 and upwards also play there.
Asif praised coach Mumtaz for his patience and quality coaching the Americans, who took a while to understand and get used to cricket.
Asif has two more 10-acre properties near Fontana and one day he might also develop them into cricket fields. But that is another story.