Every Saturday, behind Anthropologie, next to the dump, on a pocked grass field, they gather; faces masked by wide-brimmed hats, bodies swathed in uniforms of white. A man twirls a crimson leather ball in his weathered hand, slowly rubs it on his wrinkled shirt, and steps back a few paces.
With a jerky flailing of his arms and thrashing of his legs, he rears his arm back and lets loose his clench on the ball, sending it hurtling forward. Across from him, a man taps a thick wooden bat twice on the dirt, then stretches his arm back in calculated preparation. The ball speeds toward him. The bat cracks against it. The hitter judges the ball's distance . . . and then he runs.
The sport -- cricket -- is the second most watched and played sport in the world, only trailing soccer in popularity. It is a game that touches people of varied social, economic and cultural backgrounds. And while it hasn't exploded in popularity within the U.S., cricket does serve to unify small clubs and teams scattered between the coasts. In Greenwich, Conn., that team is the Mad Dogs.
The Mad Dogs Cricket Club, a group of 100 men ranging from 18 to 64 years old, is the sole cricket club of Greenwich. It traces its roots back to 1990, when a group of mostly expat Brits and Australians got together for a friendly game of cricket. Soon after that match, some of those players decided to strike up a club and continue playing. Since then, the Mad Dogs has developed into a welcoming, multi-ethnic team, with the current club captain, Sanjay Santhanam, originating from India.
This diverse environment is a major component of what makes the Mad Dogs a unique cricket club.
Club members have roots embedded in countries all over the world: Australia, Bangladesh, England, India and New Zealand, to name just a handful of the cricket-playing countries the members originate from. John Moore, who began playing for the Mad Dogs in 1998 after emigrating from England, speaks of the continued importance of the club's diversity. "It is one of the few truly multi-racial clubs in the tri-state area," he says.
This has grown to be one of the Mad Dogs key goals, says Neil Kimberly, a leading member of the team since 1990. "The club is multi-racial by design, and has been named the Best Expat Sports Club in the world by the Telegraph for the past two years."
This prestigious award has brought the diverse nature of the Mad Dogs to light. The club isn't simply varied in terms of origin; the team members also differ in playing ability. While many of the players come from countries where cricket is learned in grade school, thus labeling them as fairly capable players, some joined up with little experience. This can be difficult, however, as cricket is known to be a sport of subtleties.
Keith Lawrence, who began playing at the age of eight in Ghana, speaks of the challenge of picking up cricket later in life. "If you don't start playing cricket young, it's hard to reach competence," he says. Nonetheless, as many of the members have pointed out, a player can develop and improve simply by learning from the guys around him. Frank Farricker, a Greenwich native, did have prior cricketing experience when living in New Zealand and Australia; yet he still makes note of the manner in which the team members help one another. "Cricket players are incessantly teaching, coaching, critiquing each other. It's good," he says. While other cricket teams may organize based on country of origin or skill on the field, the Mad Dogs Cricket Club is as inclusive as possible.
Along with being unusually welcoming, the Mad Dogs are also an exceptionally social team. The 45 active members all trek out to either Christiano Park in Greenwich or Ponus Ridge Middle School in Norwalk for the mix of both sport and leisure. The Mad Dogs play three games a weekend from April until the end of October, participating in both social and league cricket in and around New York.
And while some games are more intense than others, there tends to be a spirit of amiability about the team. David Coutts, a New Zealander who recently joined the club this past May, has already made note of its good-natured attitude. "The Mad Dogs are a fun bunch of guys who offer a social grade of cricket," he says. Darren Nicol, an Australian, and another new member who just began this past season, has a similar view. "It has a mix of social elements but is also competitive, which is rare in the tri-state area," he says. Even after a couple of games with the Mad Dogs, the sociability of the club is apparent.
The Mad Dogs Cricket Club may not be well-known in the town of Greenwich. Cricket isn't a household name, children don't bowl and bat in the streets, and the sport's leather ball and paddle-like bat aren't identifiable amidst tennis rackets and lacrosse sticks.
And yet, the Mad Dogs deserve to be recognized. They put race and experience aside to focus on the true purpose of the club: to enjoy the sport of cricket. So when the batter sends the frayed ball rocketing over the chain-link fence, look to the faces of the men on the field. Sweat-soaked, dirt-smudged, and sun-chapped, they breathe the life of cricket into Greenwich.