Cricket — to some it just doesn’t make any sense at all; to others, it represents the ultimate sport. The sun may have set on the British Empire, but it hasn’t set on the game it left behind.
British and Australian troops played the game in pre-state Mandate times with the first all-Israeli game happening in 1956 between Tel Aviv and Be’er Sheva. The sport has been played in this country ever since.
It is a unifying game. It brings together expats from Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, England, Sri Lanka or India who could have nothing in common but a fanatical love of the game.
And so it is that most weekends in summer you have cricketers trek up and down the country to play the game they love so much. It may not be exactly like what they’re used to back home, but that isn’t important. What is important is keeping the game alive in Israel.
Currently 19 teams play in 2 divisions. Cities all over the country, such as Eilat, Kiryat Gat, Ashdod, Dimona, Tel Aviv and Be’er Sheva are represented.
Stanley Perlman, Chairman of the ICA (Israel Cricket Association) and Herschel Gutman, national cricket development officer, are two of the driving forces behind cricket in Israel. Both are ambitious, but yet realistic about the sport in Israel.
“We want our national team to be promoted and qualify for the World League,” Perlman says. “We want to triple the amount of kids playing the game; we want to improve our playing facilities and have more venues and we want Israel’s standing in world cricket to improve by initiatives such as cricket4peace.”
The scheme involved 80 boys and girls from Israel and the Palestinian Authority being exposed to cricket for the first time. For this, the ICA won the Spirit of Cricket Award for the third time. The first was the Hitting Poverty 4 6 project in 2001 with the second coming in 2009 for the Bedouin project.
For anyone that doesn’t play it, cricket is an unknown and the game can be bewildering to the locals as Quidditch.
“We want cricket to be a sport recognized by the Israeli public,” Perlman said.
Via its development, it’s hoped that a connection to the game develops.
“Local youngsters, when introduced to the game, love it. We do struggle though, to convince the older generation to participate,” Gutman added.
Formerly of England, Michael Lewis now lives in Israel and is able to play the sport with his sons. “We never believed we would have the opportunity to play cricket in Israel,” he says.
“The ICA conducts a very successful junior program so now we are playing with, and against, our kids.”
The program that Lewis speaks about is an effort to grow the grassroots. From players to coach education the cricket base is being expanded and it’s hoped that these kids will become quality players.
The sport is heading in the right direction with a night competition complementing the day one. The night cricket has been a massive success, bringing people into the cricket community who otherwise would have never played the game.
But whether its football, basketball or cricket, all sports in Israel face the same problem – that the army takes away athletes in their prime for three years. “Along with a lack of good cricket facilities, this is one of our biggest issues,” Gutman said.
The ICA is continually trying to work on improve on the facilities. “Without good facilities, you can’t produce good cricketers, so venues and facilities are something we are always looking at,” Perlman said. “Currently there are nine playing fields across Israel and training nets in Ashdod and Tel Aviv. We are continuously searching for opportunities and joint opportunities with other sports in order to improve and increase our venues.”
Whether its American football, Australian football, rugby, netball or baseball expats do whatever they can to play their favorite sport. These sports are never going to be on the back pages of Ma’ariv or Yediot but that doesn’t matter. All that matters is that these games are able to carve out their own niche in the Holyland.
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Anyone who is interested playing cricket in Israel can contact David at firstname.lastname@example.org.