Weekender



BY SAM L. MARCELO, Senior Reporter


The gentleman’s game




Posted on May 27, 2011


An old photograph taken at the Nomad Sports Club in Parañaque shows that cricket has been played in the Philippines since 1914, the same year the club was founded by British nationals. Almost a century after the first ball was bowled to a batsman on a local pitch, the "gentleman’s game" is entering public consciousness.

A batsman on the Philippine national cricket team scores runs during the final of ICC East Asia-Pacific Division 2 Trophy in Samoa.
On its maiden outing this April, the Philippine National Team -- yes, apparently, the Philippines has a cricket team -- took second place at the Pepsi International Cricket Council (ICC) East Asia-Pacific Division 2 Trophy in Samoa. It was the first time the country competed in a tournament sanctioned by the ICC and to everyone’s surprise the Philippine team -- unknown and untested -- reached the finals.

Even if the 14-man squad captained by Faisal Khan eventually fell to the experienced Samoan home team, the Philippine team’s story reads like a fairy tale minus the happy ending: cricketeers, out of sheer love, decide to represent a nation that doesn’t really give two hoots about their sport. They travel 35 hours to get to a tiny Pacific island nation. Exhausted, the team has only two days to adjust before facing Indonesia, a country that has at least 200,000 kids crazy about cricket. Miracle of miracles, the Philippines wins and keeps winning -- the team goes on to beat the Cook Islands, South Korea, and Tonga -- until they find themselves actually having a shot at first place. They succumb, however, to Samoa and have to content themselves with a second-place showing at the tournament.

The Philippine National Team is now ranked in the top 100 of the world. Not bad.

"We did very well for our first outing and we’re very pleased. We didn’t know what we were getting into," said Iain Sinclair, who was nursing a cup of tea while waiting for players to show up for a social game of cricket at Nomad Sports Club. Mr. Sinclair, coach of the National Team, might be considered the "Father of Philippine Cricket."

Not to be confused with the British novelist, Mr. Sinclair has spent years building the sport. The Philippines Cricket Association (PCA), official governing body of the sport in the Philippines, was founded in 1999 and elevated to affiliate member of the ICC in 2003. It is also a member of the East Asia-Pacific Cricket Council.

"The next logical step for us was to form a National Team, which gives you some kind of profile at the top end and something to aspire to," the coach said. As of now, the team is mainly composed of Indians and Pakistanis, age 22 to 43, who have lived in the Philippines all their lives.

The ICC has stiffer eligibility laws than, say, the International Federation of Association Football or the International Rugby Board: in order to represent a country, a player must have lived in the country for seven years and played in the national league for at least three years.

"Our aim is to field an all-Filipino National Team in a few years or so, or maybe groom a Filipino professional player," said Mr. Sinclair. "There are lots of opportunities. Top players can earn millions of dollars a year."

THE WORLD IS WATCHING

Cricket is a big game elsewhere in the world, he continued, citing dedicated cricket television channels in countries like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka as proof of the sport’s popularity. Furthermore, the Cricket World Cup is among the top five televised sporting events. "Millions of people watch it. It’s a big business," Mr. Sinclair said.

The sport recently received a regional boost when it became a medal sport in the 2010 Asian Games and an exhibition sport in this year’s Southeast Asian Games. Mr. Sinclair senses that cricket is about to explode in Asia and he wants the Philippines to be ready if and when it does happen.

The PCA’s main goal is to strengthen the junior program. "That way we get the base level and we can start building the pyramid. What we have now is the base and the top and nothing in between," he laughed.

The association has already partnered with several schools, among them British School of Manila and International School of Manila, and it is planning to expand into Visayas and Mindanao. A women’s team is also in the pipeline.

"We’re desperate for more schools to take part," the coach said. "We have the equipment and the coaches, all we need are the schools and a patch of grass about the size of a football pitch."

"IT’S NOT ALWAYS HITTING THE BALL OUT OF THE PARK"

The big question the PCA will have to answer is this: Why play cricket?

For one thing, cricket is a "much more ideal game" for Filipinos, who are short in stature but wizardly in their ball-handling skills. "You don’t have to be six-foot-ten. Size doesn’t really matter," said Mr. Sinclair, who added that Don Bradman, the greatest cricketer of all time, was 5’7".

Cricket, he continued, is a game of skill, which Filipinos have in spades. "I’ve seen kids who have never played cricket in their life just take to the game. It’s amazing," said Mr. Sinclair.

Cricket is most similar to baseball in that there are two teams -- one batting team and one bowling-and-fielding team -- playing against each other on a field. There are usually 11 players a side, although six-a-side variants also exist. Each team aims to score more runs than its opponent and completely "dismiss" -- or take out -- 10 of the 11 players in the other team.

Grossly simplified, the bowler (equivalent to baseball’s pitcher, the guy who throws the ball) aims to hit the wicket, composed of three stumps and two crosspieces each called a "bail," located behind the batsman. If the ball hits the stump and either bail falls off (the term for this would be a "broken wicket"), a batsman is said to have been "bowled" and is dismissed.

Other typical forms of dismissal include "caught", when a fielder catches a hit ball before it touches the ground; "leg before wicket", when a batsman protects the wicket with his leg instead of his bat; "run out", when the batsman attempts to run but is "put out" -- meaning the fielding team has broken the wicket before the batsman reaches the "crease" or safe zone; and "stumped," similar to a "run out" except that the wicketkeeper (the fielder guarding the wicket) does the putting out by himself.




Members of the Philippine national cricket team celebrate a wicket during the final of ICC East Asia-Pacific Division 2 Trophy in Samoa.



"Bowling can be very mental," said Mr. Sinclair. "You have to figure out your line, length, and pace -- where you want the ball to go. You also have to see what a batsman’s individual weaknesses are, where he doesn’t like to get the ball."

Some bowlers opt for pure speed: the cricket ball, a cork-and-leather sphere nine inches in circumference, can fly at a batsman at 150 kilometers per hour ("It can get a bit lively out there," the coach said).

Then there are spinners, very technical bowlers who have mastered an array of grips. They can make the ball skid, jump, cut in or away, and do unexpected things. Shining one side of the ball so that it messes with the aerodynamics is also an accepted practice.

The batsman, meanwhile, defends the wicket by batting the ball out of the way. He may also elect to score by running after a successful hit. Batting, too, said Mr. Sinclair, calls for tactics and strategy. "A lot of batting is thinking," he explained. "It’s not always hitting the ball out of the park."

HAT TRICKS AND CUCUMBER SANDWICHES

For Andrew Perrin, cricket enthusiast and PCA media relations officer, the sport’s beauty is in its narrative. "Hours can go by without anything happening," he admitted, especially during Test matches that are played over five days. "But when you were brought up with the game, you know its history and its stories. You can watch it and talk about it just like baseball, which is famous for its facts, figures, and statistics."

He shared that the phrase "hat trick," or "the achievement of a positive feat three times during competition," originated from cricket. According to the Extended Oxford English Dictionary 1999 Edition: "It came into use after HH Stephenson took three wickets in three balls at the Hyde Park ground, Sheffield in 1858. A collection was held for Stephenson (as was customary for outstanding feats by professionals) and he was presented with a cap or hat bought with the proceeds."

"Cricket is the only game I know where players break for lunch and dinner," added Mr. Perrin, who remembers watching a tournament in Sri Lanka and seeing spectators dine on cucumber sandwiches.

The PCA wants to establish its own tradition in the country so that cricket doesn’t die and go the way of other "expat sports." "I think the Philippines can accommodate another sport," said Mr. Perrin. "We’ll be fine if we get half-a-percent of the Filipino population to play cricket."

For more information, contact the Philippines Cricket Association at admin@cricket.com.ph