Uruguay’s Indian cricketers searching for a permanent home

Aerial view of a cricket match played by Indians living in Uruguay, along Montevideo's seaside promenade on February 10, 2019. (AFP / Pablo Porciuncula Brune)
Updated 16 February 2019
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Uruguay’s Indian cricketers searching for a permanent home

  • Descendants of Indian immigrants carry banner for Uruguay in the cricket field

MONTEVIDEO: Every Sunday, close to a statue of Indian independence hero Mahatma Gandhi, a group of Indian ex-pats take over a patch of land in Uruguay’s capital Montevideo for a game of cricket.
Tucked in between the Rio de la Plata estuary and the long promenade known as the “rambla” that stretches from one side of Montevideo to the other, Avijit Mukherjee prepares to bat, watched eagerly by his Uruguayan girlfriend.
“I played in my country but with a lot more infrastructure,” said the 28-year-old Mukherjee, whose girlfriend Veronica is the main reason he has stayed in Uruguay.
“There are stadiums and many places to play in India, whereas here we only have one.”
Although cricket was first played in Montevideo by British expat workers even before the foundation of the independent republic in 1828, its practice died out in the 1980s.
But following an influx of Indian immigrants to Uruguay at the turn of the century, cricket steadily returned to Montevideo.
First there were one-off matches. Then, the players organized their own league and even set up a Uruguayan national team.
At the end of last year, Uruguay, whose team was made up almost entirely of Indian expats, finished second in the South American championships in Colombia.
While the cricketers are now established on their little patch of land, their initial appearance was not entirely welcomed by local footballers playing on an adjacent pitch.
“We came like spiders and rebuked them,” recalls Daniel Mosco, a local resident who has been playing football in that field for 30 years.
The issue was quickly resolved, though, and the cricketers agreed to start playing only once the football matches had finished.
With no fixed cricket markings, players use flour to draw white lines.
Now, bat can be heard crashing against ball until sunset.
Even though they’ve been here for years, the shouts of “howzat!” and “wait on” still elicit glances from locals making their way along the rambla.
They make a curious spectacle for people little accustomed with either cricket or India.
Mosco, for one, was surprised that the players speak to each other in English.
And there’s another surprise in the form of 29-year-old doctor Saied Muhammad Asif Raza: he’s from Pakistan.
“Between the governments and in (professional) cricket there are always problems, but the people get on really well and within the team the are no problems whatsoever,” said Asif.
He left his home town of Multan, 10 hours from Islamabad, at 19 and moved to Cuba thanks to a Fidel Castro scholarship.
After returning home, he found he couldn’t readapt to his own culture.
“I didn’t come here to find a better life economically, I had a better life in my country because in my family we didn’t lack for anything,” said Asif.
“The thing is that when you live many years away, nowhere is home, and cricket brings me close to it.”
Although now at home on their small patch, finding something more permanent is crucial to Montevideo’s cricketers.
“We’re looking for a permanent ground,” Beerbal Maniyattukudy, the Uruguayan cricket association’s secretary, told AFP.
“We have 120 players this year. On top of that we’re starting some women’s teams and for now we have 20 people interested. We also have plans for an under-15s league.”
The solution may lie with Uruguay’s most popular football team: Penarol.
Penarol started life as the Central Uruguay Railway Cricket Club (CURCC), founded by British railway workers in 1891.
It was a multisport club — but just over 20 years later, its football section broke off and was absorbed by a newly created team, Penarol.
The original club’s cricket section disappeared as football became the main focus — but it was relaunched a week ago.
And crucially, Penarol are planning to build a cricket pitch an hour outside Montevideo.
“When we raised the idea of cricket, there wasn’t much to sort out; everyone was aware of what it meant to the history of the club, we just needed to work out how to make it happen,” said Leonardo Vinas, who is heading up the project.
While many club members signed up to be involved, very few have ever played cricket.
Vinas says the project will take time, not just to spread interest in the sport, but also for the club’s staff to get their heads around the rules of the game.
“Even now, we’re still not clear about certain rules.”


Unai Emery wants Arsenal to treat Al-Nasr friendly as if it was a Premier League clash

Updated 25 min 7 sec ago
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Unai Emery wants Arsenal to treat Al-Nasr friendly as if it was a Premier League clash

  • Gunners to open Al-Maktoum Stadium with friendly against Dubai side.
  • Emery calls for focus ahead of such for Champions League spot.

LONDON: Unai Emery has told his Arsenal team to take today’s friendly against Al-Nasr seriously as they aim to grab a top-four spot in the Premier League.
The north London side are in Dubai for warm-weather training during the international break. They currently lie fourth in the Premier League and would qualify for the Champions League if they were to stay there. And Emery wants Mesut Oil and Co. to treat the Al-Nasr match as if it was a key clash in the battle for a European spot.
“For us it’s very important to continue being competitive in each match,” the Gunners boss said.
“It’s a friendly against Al-Nasr, but we can use different players and take more confidence and rhythm for the next matches that are coming. And the first of that is against Newcastle.
“If we were in London, then we would have been doing the same things that we are doing here.
“The main thing for us is to have the continuity going into this friendly match where all of our players get an opportunity (to play).
“We need to give the players a platform to remain confident and keep their rhythm heading into the remainder of the season.”
The players have been out and about in Dubai trying to get some relaxation in before the final straight of the season. They have been spotted on a bus tour of the emirate, visited the Dubai Frame and four players — Rob Holding, Danny Welbeck, Hector Bellerin and Petr Cech — visited a children’s hospital to dish out gifts.
Of the trip to Dubai Emery added: “The atmosphere is continuing like in London and we’re also enjoying a big city and the very kind people with us. They’re giving us all the good things to continue our work.
“We are happy to see our fans and happy with our work here with the big facilities.
”And in preparing also for the match on Tuesday with Al-Nasr and enjoying the city. We are also very happy with all the people who are giving us everything to make it easy to work and to stay here.”
The Gunners will face Benat San Jose’s Al-Nasr side to officially open Al-Maktoum Stadium — which was refurbished for the Asian Cup.
Emery will be without a number of first-team faces, with many currently on international duty. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Mohammed Elneny just four of the names who will be missing.
The lack of many first-team regulars means Emery has a chance to look at some young players as he readies the squad for the last two months of the season. Of all the top-four hopefuls — the Gunners are battling it out with Tottenham, Chelsea and Manchester United — Arsenal’s run-in is the easiest. They no longer have to face any top-six side and, but they do have five away games out of their remaining nine matches.
Of the training in Dubai striker Alexandre Lacazette added: “It’s interesting for the club. We have to say thank you. For us, it’s a pleasure to play in this match.”