International Cricket Comes to Umlazi

International cricket came to Umlazi for possibly the first time yesterday, when The Occidental Cricketers visited the township to play a social game against Umlazi Cricket Club at the latter’s home ground at Umlazi Com Tech School.

The Occidental Cricketers is a team made up of cricketers from New Zealand, Australia, England, Canada, the United States of America and Trinidad and Tobago. It is the brain child of New Zealander, Jim Morrison, who harboured a dream to go to India to play cricket. When he couldn’t find players to join him, he began emailing clubs around the world, which put him in touch with other cricketers, willing to accompany him on a cricketing adventure.

The team’s inaugural tour (to India) happened in 2015. They have since toured Australia and New Zealand (2016) and the West Indies (2017) – with other cricketers joining them along the way – before finally coming to South Africa this year. The oldest member of the team is 72, whilst the youngest is 33.

Morrison says the team played their first game against Crickets Cricket Club, in Kloof, in a very different setting from the Umlazi Com Tech cricket field which is sandwiched by the school buildings on the one side, and an informal settlement on the other. “It’s great to get a full range of experiences when we go to a country,” he says. “So we contacted the office of the Kwazulu Natal Cricket Union Township and Rural Development programme and told them we wanted to play in a township and they facilitated this for us.” The facility was much better than he expected, he said.

The manager of the programme, Kwazi Mdluli – who represented Umlazi Cricket Club in the game – said the occasion was an exciting one. “It’s great – it’s the first time we have seen something like this.”

Since most Umlazi Club Cricket regulars were at work, Mdluli put together a team made up of the development programme staff who thoroughly enjoyed the experience. “It’s a social match and they are our guests – it’s been incredible and a lot of fun,” he said. “They are really friendly and asked a lot of questions about development and about the kids in our programme, as they are trying to do what we do which is to promote cricket.”

And what about The Occidental Cricketers’ cricketing ability? “We took them lightly but they can play – they made 166 in twenty overs,” he laughed.

Khulekani Mtshali a coach from Inanda who represented Umlazi Cricket Club for the occasion, said it was the first time in his ten years of playing cricket that he had witnessed cricketers from overseas playing in Umlazi. “It’s a very good thing to socialise with people from overseas.”

For Hafiz Mohamed of Trinidad and Tobago, playing against the backdrop of extreme poverty was nothing out of the ordinary. “It’s similar to Trinidad,” he said. “I feel at home.” – Fatima Asmal