Cricket isn’t just an insect.
The Indian batsmen, bowlers and fielders of Chinese Garden.
Every Sunday afternoon, Chinese Garden becomes a playground for adults.
Looking around, one can find amorous couples picnicking by the lake, men stretching their limbs in preparation for an evening of play, and the rolling green fields transformed into a cricket pitch.
Foreign to the world of cricket, we approached a spectator — Deeban — to learn more.
“ On Sundays we usually play cricket. We will start playing at 11 AM after the Indian expatriates are done with their game. We play until it gets dark. You can’t really play cricket after that. ”
Can you tell us more about your team?
“ My cricket team is called ‘Friends Team’. We play every weekend. There are 12 teams in total, 11 players each. Every team pays $200 to join the tournament. The $2,400 collected will then be given out as prize money. So, first prize would be $1000, second prize $800 and third prize $600. ”
For them, cricket is more than a pastime.
Playing cricket is their way of recreating a feeling of home in a foreign land. It could also bring them back to a moment when they were carefree, and in control of their lives which lay ahead of them.
When one leaves his country to work overseas as a migrant worker, he slowly loses control of certain aspects of his life such as where he works, what he eats, and where he sleeps.
On the other hand, playing cricket allows him to take control of his life. And as life just seems to flow by, cricket anchors him.
Why do you love cricket?
“ Cricket is very popular in India. It was introduced by the British and is very similar to a traditional Indian game called Ghilli.
I have been playing cricket since I was young. I feel a sense of nostalgia when I play it. Back when I was in school in India, we will study throughout the week and wait for Sunday to play cricket. I get the same feeling here. ”
What did you have for dinner last night?
“ We didn’t cook last night as it was our off day. Instead, we ate out. ”
What do you usually order when you eat out?
“ Sometimes prata or thosai. Other times, Chinese food. ”
Do you have a favourite Chinese dish?
“ Everything is nice. It is mostly non-vegetarian and I don’t know what it’s made of. So I usually order without knowing what I am eating. ”
“ I studied until Plus Two (JC 2). I wanted to become a professional cricketeer. But my family situation did not allow me.
I am the only son and have a younger sister who is studying. I am also the sole breadwinner of the family. ”
What makes you happy?
“ If my team wins, I will be very, very happy. ”
Which other teams play here?
“ There are Friends Team, Khaki Bukit Boys, Indian Boys, Sivagangai Stars, Success Team, Tamil Brothers, Tamil Tigers, West Lite. ”
“ I am from the Tamil Brothers cricket team. We won this year’s tournament. ”
How do you prepare for the match?
“ We don’t have the time to train or play cricket on weekdays. But as we have been playing it since young, we are seasoned already. ”
Why do you think your team won?
“ All our team members are all-rounders — they can bat, bowl and field. In other teams, their members usually specialise only in one skill. ”
In a concrete jungle like Singapore, unused green spaces are a rarity. These spaces have minimal infrastructure yet they have an unintended effect of encouraging communal activities.
We use these spaces amidst us daily. Yet on Sundays, the nature of these spaces is altered as migrant workers gather at this spot.
When they come together as a community, they somehow activate the ‘magic’ of an otherwise mundane field. We see them using the space in a way that we seldom do, probably because we have forgotten its potential.
Perhaps it’s time we pay more attention.
There are different reasons to form a community, sports is one of them. This cricket community is one that emerged organically from a sense of collective nostalgia.
When friends get together you can trust their social inhibitions to slowly disappear. Despite a heavy use of vulgarities and teasing, underlying it all is an unwavering support for one another.
We witnessed several occasions when the batsman missed an easy shot, nevertheless there was encouraging applause from across the field. A strong sense of camaraderie could be felt.
Sundays at Chinese Garden is one time and place where Deeban and his friends lose their identity as a ‘migrant worker,’ and assume the role of a batsman, bowler or fielder.
Once a week, they acquire the identity of a cricketeer, a member of a team. For everywhere else in Singapore, they are just another migrant worker.