By Peter Della Penna
In terms of American cricket history, Philadelphia was one of the great strongholds of the game in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Now, the city is rekindling its spirit for the game in the 21st century. The 18th annual Philadelphia International Cricket Festival is a big reason why.
The event is a mixture of tight-knit friends and small communities but with a big-time feel because of the glorious facilities on offer, not to mention a lengthy list of special guests over the years. It has helped establish a tradition of excellence that makes this a cricket tournament that is equal parts competitive and social, the latter of which is not always easy to find in the scrappy nature of most amateur leagues in the USA.
Toronto CC celebrate their win at the Philadelphia Cricket Festival
“We have a pretty good ground back in Toronto with good turf wickets, where international cricket can basically be played in Canada, but to come here, the clubhouses are amazing,” said Hassan Choghtai, captain of Toronto Cricket Skating and Curling Club, who won the tournament final over Sarasota International CC by four wickets. “We got a huge response, a huge welcome in the hotel and knowing new people, you chat around with a lot of new guys. To come and meet the special guest, Michael Kasprowicz this year, it’s amazing. It’s an amazing feeling and that’s what keeps on motivating us.”
Past special guests have made a habit of getting out onto the pitch to mix in with the amateur clubs, giving players the thrill of a lifetime. Kasprowicz was no exception. The 38-year-old fast bowler, who played 38 Tests for Australia, played in two matches at the festival.
“Philadelphia had a great time with Kasper,” said Howard Chinn, member of Germantown CC and a co-organizer of the event. “Most of the current or just past current players have played in games. [Mark] Boucher played quite a few games. Jonty Rhodes played two years ago. He played and he enjoyed it. We all loved playing with him. Hey listen, what’s it like being on the field with a guy who’s one of the best fielders ever in the game?”
This year’s event was a 14-team, four day event of 20-over matches played from April 29-May 2 at four different grounds in the Philadelphia area, including the Great Lawn at Merion Cricket Club and St. Martin’s Field at Philadelphia Cricket Club, by all accounts two of the most beautiful club facilities in America.
Hassan Choghtai holds the trophy
Teams come from as far as Arizona, Colorado, North Carolina, Florida, Montreal, and the UK to have fun on the pitch with clubs from New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. The final was played at the PCC, whose long and stately pavilion backdrop makes it feel as though the players are competing at a Test match venue.
“We have unbelievable venues where we hold the festival,” said Missy Heely, co-organizer and secretary of the PICF. “People remember every ball of every over and every catch and you have these magnificent venues where we play and they get to see old friends and they get to be a little bit more competitive.”
Heely, American born and raised, first learned about cricket after getting involved with the event 14 years ago because her husband was friends with a fellow organizer, Craig Joss. However, Heely says that it didn’t take long to pick up the game and credits the social rewards that come from it as a big reason why she keeps with it.
“It’s the people. I have friends around the world now because of a little tiny cricket festival in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I have friends in South Africa and California and they’re all brought together on the cricket pitch.”
The organizers also recognize the need to give back to the game to help make it grow at the grassroots level. The Lads of New Jersey, a youth focused roster comprising kids from DreamCricket Academy and Indoor Cricket USA, was one of the 14 teams in the event. Lads of NJ also played an exhibition match against Germantown Academy, a squad from the suburban Philadelphia high school, on the last day immediately before the final. Perhaps most significantly, a silent auction was held with autographed jerseys and other memorabilia up for bidding to raise money for Philadelphia Junior Cricket.
Post Match Interview with Choghtai and Zia from Peter Della Penna on Vimeo.
“What we try and do is every year whatever we can give to youth cricket we give to them,” said Chinn. “It’s usually around $2000-$3000.” One of the items on offer at the auction this year was a Chennai Super Kings jersey signed by six players including captain MS Dhoni that went for a winning bid of $2700.
Even though the festival has a strong expat flavor, American accents can be heard all around the festival grounds in Philadelphia. Contrary to popular belief, Heely believes that it’s not hard for Americans to learn if they take an analytical approach to the game.
“I’ve fallen in love. I’ve learned to keep score,” said Heely. “We’re a statistics driven society. I can do ERAs in baseball. It’s the same thing as strikes and balls. You’ve got wides and dot balls and everything and you’re calculating the run rate. In a game like today, it came down to the last ball of the last over and if you’re paying attention, you’re calculating the run rate. You’re hoping for a two. You’re hoping for a catch. It’s just as exciting as any other sport and you have these beautiful places in which to play it.”
Philadelphia Cricket Festival Awards Presentation from Peter Della Penna on Vimeo.
More than anything, the humility and good hospitality of the organizers make the Philadelphia International Cricket Festival a truly worthwhile event that has teams eager to return year after year.
“We’ve been fairly lucky over 18 years that I would say we’ve had fun at every one of them,” said Chinn. “Every one’s worked out, whether we’ve had rain or whatever circumstance, it’s worked out pretty well.”
For a blog covering the matches, please visit http://pcccricket2010.blogspot.com/
Final in progress between Sarasota and Toronto CC
The scoreboard tells it all
Jubiliant Toronto CC
The Festival Trophy and the Hamish Miller Shield
The hallowed grounds of the PCC!