Prose and Kohn: Ryan Kohn
Ever since I visited the Sarasota International Cricket Club — which hosts its matches at Lakewood Ranch’s Parry Field — in 2016, I have felt the sport, and club, was under appreciated.
Cricket requires intense concentration from the bowler (the pitcher) and hitter, and endurance is key. The club plays amateur cricket, not Test cricket (the kind that has matches last for days), thus promoting an atmosphere of fun and camaraderie.
The matches still last most of the day, however, making it a great option if you want to spend time outside. I was hoping from my first visit, more people would give it a chance, eiither watching or playing.
But who am I to say if this club is any good at cricket or not? I have no cricket credentials. Before June 22, I had seen one match. I have now seen two (SICC vs. Tampa’s Spartans Cricket Club), and at my second, I found someone who could give my opinion more weight: Shivnarine Chanderpaul.
I can hear you all now ... “Who?”
Shivnarine Chanderpaul. To many American sports fans, the name might as well be John Doe, but in other parts of the world, it would make ears twitch and eyes widen. Chanderpaul, 44, is the eighth-highest scoring player in international Test cricket history with 11,867 runs. A native of Guyana, Chanderpaul played for the West Indies team. In 2008, he was named Cricketer of the Year by the Wisden Cricketers' Almanack, a.k.a. the “Bible of cricket,” and the International Cricket Council. He is one of the best to ever play.
Chanderpaul, who retired from international competition in 2016 and lives in Orlando, has played with SICC intermittently since 2005. His manager, Lakewood Ranch’s Chris Thakoorpersad, is the club’s vice president and team captain. I found Chanderpaul watching cricket on the clubhouse couch and decided to ask him what he thought of the club.
“It is a more social (form of) cricket,” Chanderpaul said. “I come to be with the other fellas and get to know them. We just have fun, relax and enjoy the cricket. It’s great.”
Chanderpaul said when he plays for SICC, he has to be more cautious of his skill level so he’s not rocketing balls at someone who just learned the game. He’s also aware of what he says and does at the club, as opposing players often will detail every experience of playing against him on Facebook.
The international superstar also helps the club with its youth program, the Florida International Cricket Academy, when the opportunity arises. The program currently has 15 kids in it, Thakoorpersad said. It has a few goals,which include instilling a love for the game and potentially molding kids into international cricketers themselves — yes, the U.S. has a national team, currently ranked 31st in the world by the International Cricket Council. The U.S. Men’s National Soccer Team is ranked 30th globally by FIFA, for comparison’s sake. Chanderpaul said it's not out of the question for a Lakewood Ranch kid to make the team, or play professionally. But they need to learn the game young, and this is a prime opportunity to do so.
The academy also has more modest ambitions, like keeping kids interested enough in cricket so they one day can keep the club running. Thakoorpersad said that of each batch of 15 kids, three or four on average will continue with cricket into adulthood.
“We introduce them to the cricket bat, the cricket ball, the pitch, the wicket, etc.,” Thakoorpersad said. “We tell them, ‘Hey, this is how it is done — you are supposed to bowl the ball, not throw it — but go out there and do whatever you feel like doing.’ Then they go and hit the ball around. If we see that it is generating interest in them, or they have some kind of skill we can see, then we can start streamlining them into playing with the rules.”
It’s a noble goal, keeping the spirit of cricket alive in the area. I hope they succeed and cricket sticks around for a long time. Child or not, I encourage all of you to watch a match (it’s free) or try it yourself. Thakoorpersad said they have had many adults discover the club and learn from scratch over the years, so you would not be the first.
And who knows? You might get to play with a legend of the game in the process.
Interested parties can visit sarasotacricket.org for more information on the club.