For those of us unacquainted with British culture, the game of cricket seems strange. To an American sports fanatic it may resemble baseball, but with one too many batters. Eyeing pins at the end of a lane, other onlookers might draw a comparison to bowling. Then again, the oversized leg pads worn by the offense look like field hockey goalie pads.
Cricket has traces of so many different sports that it fails to resemble any one in significant measure, but one thing is for sure: it looks nothing like soccer.
In a nation full of soccer fanatics, it was certainly odd to see a Limón soccer field converted into a cricket pitch for the High School Cricket Finals, and even more surprising to see that the teams were fielded by Costa Rica’s most soccer-obsessed demographic. Teenage Ticos.
“Playing cricket makes me feel free,” said Limbert Abarca, a member of Heredia’s Roblealto squad who scored a record-setting 50 runs at the tournament. “Once I step out onto the pitch I feel like a completely different person.”
Abarca is not alone in his love for the foreign game. Costa Rica currently has 32 teams and a national cricket league and has begun hosting inter-school tournaments. This year marks the first time high schools have been included in the tournament.
Three high school teams gathered at the Polysport Stadium in Limón last week. The British ambassador to Costa Rica, Sharon Campbell, also attended to watch her motherland’s national sport play out on foreign soil. After a closely fought tournament, Colegio Maryland from Siquirres came out on top, followed by Colegio Roblealto from Heredia and Colegio Pacuare from outside of Limón finishing third.
“I’m very proud of my team,” said Maryland Captain Joel Granados Peña, “We always work as a team and that helped us win this tournament.”
Even with the distinct air of British-ness at the tournament, there was something markedly Tico about the scene; the stadium was surrounded by palm trees, and the usual Costa Rican slang and trash talk being thrown around by the players mixed with the cannon-like blasts of Carnaval fireworks.
On the sidelines, a father and son kicked around a soccer ball. “I want to play cricket when I get older,” said the boy.
“No,” said his father. “You want to be a futbólista.”
Some things never change, still, the game of cricket has become undeniably popular within the last few years, mainly due to the efforts of Costa Rica Cricket Federation President Richard Illingworth.
The International Cricket Council, of which Costa Rica is an affiliate member, began funding developmental school teams along with the Costa Rican sports authority and the British embassy in 2008. The result is a group of young Ticos who have grown up with the game, much like their peers grew up with soccer.
For some of the boys, cricket may open up future opportunities that they would not otherwise have, particularly at Roblealto, a school for at-risk youth.
“I think I have a future in Cricket,” said Abarca, who has now played for the Roblealto team for six years. “I think I have a chance at playing for the Costa Rican national team.”
Whether these young cricket players become champions or simple participate in a few great games, it certainly gives them something to do.
“Anything that keeps them off the street and off drugs is to be encouraged,” said Ambassador Campbell.