Cricket at Haverford

 

Haverford cricket team, 1896. This was the first Haverford team to tour internationally. They went to England where they played against England’s top teams.

Hidden in Plain Sight

Most Haverford students cannot help but walk by this little-known landmark every day. Whether on our way to or from class, the Dining Center, another dorm, the train station, or Wawa, the cricket field sits conspicuously at the center of campus, occupying a little corner of our collective consciousness that simply whispers, “we have a cricket team.”

Anything more than that is rarely said because, after all, none of us really know what cricket is. It is a sport; that much we know. And with what we have gathered from passing practices, games, and players, people dress up in all-white uniforms, hit a ball, and dash between two seemingly arbitrary points until something happens and a winner is declared.

Haverford Cricket seems to be hiding in plain sight, shrouded by the mystery of its unfamiliarity to most of us. Yet its impact on the college’s history and development is incalculable.

The Heart of American Cricket

One quick visit to the old pavilion on the ground where cricket was first played in its modern form in America, and you will be met with wooden plaques detailing who was on Haverford’s team from 1833 onwards. You will immediately notice names like Gummere, Sharpless, Comfort, Hilles—all captains who lead the cricket team before leading the college in some form or another. Patterson, Lester, Congdon, Scattergood, Newhall, and Morris are other names you may not notice, but are equally important to the broader history of cricket in America.

From its inception in 1833 until the early 1900s, cricket was the sport at Haverford.

Nearly everybody loved it, most people on campus played it (the college had up to four teams playing simultaneously on different fields), classes were scheduled around it, good players became national and sometimes global celebrities, international rivalries were established against top teams from England, and Haverford utterly dominated the sport, which was the most popular in all of America until baseball replaced it. In the Northeast and Philadelphia in particular, thousands would flock to cricket games between the top teams who almost always fielded Haverford students and alumni.

To put it simply, cricket was the heart of Haverford, and Haverford was the heart of American cricket, with the pavilion standing as a veritable cricket and Haverford hall of fame.

Three cricketing greats came out of America during this time: John A. Lester, Bart King, and George S. Patterson. Lester and Patterson were Haverford students. Lester had the highest batting average of any Philadelphia player, and captained the US side in all international home matches. Over a hundred years later, Patterson still holds the American record for the highest runs garnered from a single day of play.

Historic Haverford Cricket Captains (from left to right), Howard Comfort-1870, George Patterson-1886, John Lester-1896, Thomas Sharpless-1909, Henry Scattergood-1933.

The New York Times recently wrote an article exploring Haverford’s disproportionate presence in professional baseball as a school with only 1,200 students. Imagine 20 times the influence with only about 100 students: that was Haverford’s place in cricket.

Haverford cricket players practicing during the winter off-season, 1900. 

But now, Haverford-as well as America-has largely left cricket behind, and the campus is littered with the vestiges of Haverford’s once-preeminent position in the sport. The buildings are named after its cricketers; the C. C. Morris Cricket Library, the largest collection of cricket memorabilia and history in the Western Hemisphere, lies inside Magill Library, and Cope Field, the same one that launched Haverford cricket to international greatness, rests quietly between the trees and professors’ homes like a ghost, watching curious students stop and observe the now-foreign sport for a few moments before moving on to the rest of their day.

Cricket at Haverford Today

Even though the influence and popularity of cricket has dwindled at Haverford, the storied varsity sport has not ceased to touch the lives of all those curious students who, instead of going about with their day after watching practice, decided to step onto the field and join the team.

Those who have joined in the last 40 years have been met with a kind welcome by Haverford’s head coach, Kamran Khan. A living cricket legend who played for cricket-crazy Pakistan’s national side before captaining America’s national team for over a decade, Mr. Khan can be seen slowly walking through practices and taking players aside individually to teach them the basics of cricket, while delivering profound wisdom in the process.

“Kamran’s style of teaching— letting us try to figure out things on our own, carefully observing things at length before taking one of us off to the side and quietly sharing his observations and suggestions for ways to improve what we were doing— was probably one of the most important things I learned at Haverford,” says Julie Jernberg, Haverford’s first woman to play on the varsity team in 1981-1985.

Haverford Varsity Cricket team playing during Spring 2013.

When I joined the cricket team, I, like so many others, had no knowledge of the sport, and heard only rumors of its existence in the world. Three short years later, I find myself cramming cricket into all hours of the day, joining as many teams as I can, reading every book and article, watching every video, match and highlight reel I can get my hands on, and thinking about the rhythms of the game to put myself to sleep every night. Mr. Khan’s unique style of coaching has given me a passion for cricket that I will carry with me for the rest of my life, and has taught me invaluable lessons about the sport that can be applied to nearly everything worth doing.

“Cricket is a game of concentration,” Mr. Khan tells us at least two times a practice, likely repeating this mantra thousands of times during his tenure here.

And, of course, he’s completely right. To do well in cricket, at some point, you have to let go of everything—the score, things going on outside of the game, training, even teammates, and move only to the instinctual beat of watching the ball move through the air and reacting.

I know if I can focus and act in this way, then I will be at my best, and everything else will fall into place. This is an especially difficult mentality for many players, since we are all ambitious and want to win, and that intuitively means treating every movement as a part of a meticulous plot to ensure victory.

But rather than stress myself into an abyss about some abstract, long-term strategy for the next 100 balls, dooming the chance of hitting any one of them well, I can simply take them on one at a time, concentrating on hitting each. Eventually, I’ll find myself 100 balls later with a score that I and my team can use to win. But hey, even if we don’t win, being able to play this beautiful game at Haverford is worth it on its own, and of course, there’s always next weekend.

We are going to be playing cricket nearly every day from 4 till 6, with games on the weekends against other historic cricket clubs. If you’ve got a little bit of time, come check us out, sit with us on the pavilion, watch some cricket, and maybe even get a quick glance inside our clubhouse to see the nearly 200-year-old history of Haverford cricket written on the walls.

Haverford Varsity Cricket team in the Fall 2014.

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