Twenty-two players, all in white. A red leather ball, two bats and terms like wicket, run and bowler. That is all you need for the sport of gentlemen. Some people call it the best sport of the world, all the others call it cricket.
It’s a Sunday morning, the sun is high in the sky, and I am standing next to the converted Unisport football pitch. The Cricket Team of Göttingen University has just started its match against the Hamburger Sportverein. For the majority of Germans, cricket might be under the top ten commonwealth clichés, right next to the Queen and five o’clock tea. Indigenous to Great Britain, India and Australia, cricket made its way over to Göttingen around 30 years ago. “In the mid-eighties, some Englishmen from the Max Planck Institute played cricket now and then. During that time I studied English and Sports in Göttingen and heard of that. In 1987 I was then able to introduce cricket at the Hochschulsport”, remembers Dhushan Ekanayake, founder of Göttingen’s cricket club. Today, the club counts around 30 members.
I didn’t come here entirely unprepared. A thorough Wikipedia research explained the basic rules: Batsmen, Wicket, Bowler, Run – terms for, according to my first impression, a very elaborate kind of rounders. Whoever is best at hitting the ball and the fastest at running, wins the game. Easy peasy, it shouldn’t be too hard to follow, or at least that’s what I thought. Even for a team sports adjusted eye, the first surprise offers the choice of jersey: all players are, without exception, dressed in white. Only thanks to his baby blue shorts, the referee is distinguishable from the teams. The following match is best described by referring to my schooldays math experiences: some things I understand, several seem to be familiar, and others don’t make any sense at all. Compared with that, the offside rule is a piece of cake. I just cheer every time the others do – seems to be the safest way to go.
Dhushan is sitting next to me, explaining patiently and telling me how Göttingen’s team is made up. “Most of our players are PhD students from India”, says Dhushan. According to him, there are also several refugees, most of them from Afghanistan, who recently joined the team. But everybody is welcome of course, with or without cricket experiences. The training takes place every Friday from 4 until 8 pm on the Hochschulsport grounds. Göttingen’s female cricket team, which is not part of the Hochschulsport but of the sport club BG 74, suffers meanwhile from a lack of players. “You really have to stick to it and practice constantly if you didn’t grow up playing cricket”, says player and coordinator Kerstin Jörike. “That might be it what scares many Germans away.”
Cricket exerts its very own fascination on me. Although nothing much happens on the pitch (at least in the eyes of an amateur), it is somehow impossible to look away. Many student athletes felt the same way when they happened to watch Göttingen’s home match on that Sunday morning. A lot of them stayed to watch, took photos and tried to figure out the rules of this – for German measures – unknown and exotic sport. Meanwhile, Göttingen lost its match against Hamburg with 202 to 302 runs. But the season is far from being over. During the summer months, there will be several opportunities to watch Göttingen’s cricketers playing the sport of gentlemen, or even to join in and score a run yourself.