15. September 2020
by Christa Amstutz Gafner, Delf Bucher
Winterthur on a Saturday afternoon at the Deutweg sports complex. Suddenly the blue team on the edge of the field is cheering. For outsiders there is confusion as to why points are now being noted on the scoreboard for the blue team from Zurich. The game is cricket. With a small hard ball, two bats and two 'goals' made of wooden sticks called wickets. The game is reminiscent of baseball, but with cricket everything is different.
It started in a garden
For most Swiss people, cricket is a book with seven seals. Actually, that is astonishing. After all, it's about the second most popular sport in the world after football and a billion-dollar business. Patrick Henderson is president of the "Zurich Crickets Cricket Club". He knows all the rules and knows why international matches can last up to five days. Because his son Nicolas was keen to learn cricket even as a child in kindergarten, the British-born grammar school teacher taught him to play in the garden. In the meantime, Nicolas is 21 years old and is waiting for his assignment as a batsman. Until then, he explains a few basic rules of the game: two batsmen hit the thrown balls as far as possible into the opponent's field to score points with back and forth running on the pitch, the heart of the action. The field team in turn tries to interrupt the race, destroy the two wickets or have the batsmen eliminated in some other way. While his son fights for points, Patrick Henderson and his Winterthur colleague record the course of the game and all the results in the shade of a tent roof. After each over, i.e. after six of the thrower's balls, the score is shown on a black board. After two and a half hours the first first round is completed. The Zurich team scored 208 points in 40 overs and "lost" eight batters. Now it's time for a 20 minute break. Chicken sausages are sizzling on the grill. "Guaranteed halal", says the captain of the Winterthur team, Mohammed Sameel. He bought the sausages specially in a Muslim butcher's shop.
"When we play or eat, we make sure that nobody is excluded," stresses the Tamil. He is not particularly impressed by the fact that the Zurich players immediately use the short break for a little throwing training. "Oh, they're simply Zurichers, we Winterthurers take things a bit more calmly. Just like the ZCCC team, his "Winterthur Cricket Club" is multicultural. Sameel came to Switzerland years ago as a Tamil refugee. He knows the integrative power of cricket. The players, who have been living in Switzerland for some time, help the newcomers to find their way around the new place. Singhalese are also part of the Winterthur team. "In Sri Lanka we fight each other, here we play cricket together," says Sameel with a laugh as he heads for the second half of the game. Now the Zurichers are in the field and the Winterthur batters are on the pitch.
No English lawn
The pitch is a smooth, narrow surface of 20 metres in length. "Normally it consists of English turf, trimmed to the millimetre," says Alexander Mackay. The founder of the "Winterthur Cricket Club" is proud that he was able to convince the sports department to install a pitch of artificial turf with a concrete substructure here on Deutweg. Cricket is becoming increasingly popular in Switzerland thanks to expats and refugees, Mackay knows. He presides over the "Cricket Switzerland" association and provides figures: "Today there are 28 clubs, 23 of which play in the league and the cup. Even the CERN research centre in Geneva has its own team. Mackay is currently collecting used cricket equipment. It is intended for refugees, asylum centres have asked for it, and he says that it doesn't need much more than a few bats to be able to play. Most of the boys have only played with tennis balls so far. The "hard-ball", the cricket ball, is not much bigger than a tennis ball, but it is almost four times as heavy and buzzes through the air at up to 150 kilometres per hour. That is why the Batters wear helmets with various types of protection and layers of padding. Alexander Mackay sits happily in his camping chair. He has every reason to be confident. A victory of his team is on the horizon. What he still misses: "Because of Corona I didn't get my curry today." Because usually curry is eaten at the games, sometimes the full programme with barbecue and tea, sandwiches and cakes. Mackay's optimism is confirmed: after more than five hours of play, Winterthur wins with 209 points and only needed 33.3 overs to beat the Zurich team. Cheers and shouts in English, Swiss German and Tamil once again underline the international nature of the sport. Zurich captain Nicolas Henderson is disappointed with the outcome of the game. Because in the season shortened due to the Corona pandemic, the rule for first division matches is: if you lose, you are eliminated. But the boys from the ZCCC are still in the "20 Over Cup", the shorter form of competition alongside the championship. In cricket, however, frustration would never erupt on the field, as is all too often the case after football matches. In the same way, the decisions of the referees are accepted without contradiction.
Better than the colonialists
Cricket sees itself as a "gentleman's sport". Nicolas Henderson also wrote his Matura thesis on this subject to find out why the sport of the colonialists is still so popular in the former British colonies today. His conclusion: Since the locals were not allowed to play, they founded their own teams and soon became better than the British. In time of need, they brought the local stars into their teams. "In the end, sport promoted the fight for independence."