By Daniel Massey
A recent editorial in a weekly newspaper produced out of a small office on Liberty Avenue in Ozone Park blasted the bosses of two players selected to represent the United States at an international cricket tournament later this month for refusing to grant them time off from their jobs to compete.
The commentary, which appeared in the Cricket International newspaper under the title “It is time cricket gets the respect it deserves,” underscored the fact that the sport is fighting to gain recognition in the United States.
But it also showed that the game has a voice here in Queens, where immigrants from cricket-playing countries like Guyana, Trinidad, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh have settled in large numbers in recent years. Nearly 9 percent of New York City residents were born in a cricket-playing country, according to cricket league organizers.
Weekend visitors to Flushing Meadows Corona Park during spring and summer months are more likely to see young people running between wickets than bases, and cricket leagues have sprouted up across the metropolitan area. Last summer 200 teams competed in 12 different leagues across the New York area.
During the winter, cricketers flock to Indoor Cricket USA, which hosts numerous tournaments on the second floor of a warehouse building on 130th Street in Richmond Hill.
“Cricket is not just a game for us,” said Desiree Jodha, sports editor of the 6-year-old newspaper who came from Guyana in 2000. “It’s a blood thing. We see cricket as everything.”
Unlike many of the borough newspapers geared toward specific ethnic markets, Cricket International has its own unique niche: It targets people who emigrated from countries where cricket is played.
More than 12,000 copies are distributed free of charge each week at newsstands, restaurants and banks. Some 300 weekly subscriptions are sent out across the country.
Three years ago, a new management team led by Vish Lekhram took over the paper and instituted a community news pull-out section called “The Eagle.”
Now, in addition to the latest cricket scores and standings from around the world, readers receive international news from cricket-playing countries and get caught up to date on Queens politics, crime and community events in neighborhoods such as Richmond Hill and Ozone Park where large cricket-loving communities live.
A recent edition contained a full page discussion on education and constituent services with City Councilman Joseph Addabbo (D-Ozone Park).
Alim Hassim, the managing editor of the paper who came from Guyana in 1999, said the fledgling news section does not focus only on the Caribbean.
“We try to focus on people who came from countries with cricketing backgrounds,” he said. “We’re trying to touch as many cricket lovers as possible,” he said.
Cricket International is not Lekhram’s only venture to promote cricket in the United States. He serves as executive director of the United States Cricket Association’s New York Junior Cricket Program, which last year worked with the Board of Education to launch a pilot cricket development program in two Queens public schools.
In addition to promoting cricket, the paper serves an important role in helping immigrants maintain ties with their homelands, said Aftab Karimullah, an Ozone Park resident who came to New York from Guyana in the early 1980s and hosts a popular Caribbean cable television program called “Spotlight.”
“One [trait of] new immigrants is you still have your heart stuck back home,” he said. “You have families back there and you want to keep in touch.”
Alim and Jodha use cricket to keep those bonds alive, but at the same time foresee a day when they will not have to write editorials calling for official recognition of cricket in the United States.
“We have the best team in everything, basketball, baseball,” Jodha said. “We’re trying to make cricket a leading sport.”
Reach reporter Daniel Massey by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 156.