While many of the players were enjoying some much need R and R after our long season, Nick Compton decided to head for Los Angeles and meet up with Compton Cricket Club - a local team with a big mission: "The aim of playing cricket is to teach people how to respect themselves and respect authority so they stop killing each other" Ted Hayes, Team Founder, Compton Cricket Club.
Nick's grandfather, Denis Compton had been in contact with the Club and hoped to join up with them on a tour to the UK. Unfortunately he passed away before this could take place and when Nick was given the opportunity to meet up and train with the team he jumped at the chance and flew out to America.
In this special edition of Compo's Clips, Nick brings you his highlights from his time in Los Angeles: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3xzeaByEYlE He has also written a blog on his experiences which can be read below:
When I think of the US, glaring, impressionable images of McDonalds, loud Americans eating hot dogs at baseball games, apple pie and highly annoying accents come to the forefront of my mind. What I don't visualise, though, is cricket!
So, when asked to spend a weekend coaching the Compton Cricket Club, an inner city cricket team in Downtown Los Angeles, I accepted without hesitation.
I found that Compton bore a close resemblance to its reputation. It certainly wasn't the back streets of Mumbai but its raw functionalism was certainly closer to the sub-continent than Beverley Hills or Sunset Boulevard. Compton, you ask? Hey, man, this is the birthplace of gangster rap, trousers half- way-down-the-arse, drive-by shootings and drug warfare. This is the land of midday shades and street 'shiat'. Want some bad action, well Compton offers it up in tippers. Damn right, plains away from the cover drive and flick off the old hip I knew!
When Katy Haber, a British producer living in LA and also the mastermind behind the cricket team, got in touch with me for the first time I was overpowered by her unbinding passion for cricket and particularly this group of guys she effectively pulled off the streets.
It had crossed my mind that some sort of cricketing evangelist might be behind its formation and in a way I was right. Katy is a philanthropist and has worked with the homeless for the past 20 years. She introduced the game to another homeless activist, Ted Hayes, who was immediately taken by cricket's sense of 'etiquette', as he put it. He wanted this to be the catalyst for teaching young Americans what he termed 'civility', something he felt baseball and American football, for example, didn't do.
So, how did I end up connecting with this team? If you're thinking Nick Compton is a cricketing missionary, some mad flannel led pioneer no that would be wrong. The pitch had been laid quite a few years earlier, in fact fifteen to be precise.
Just a year before my late grandfather Denis Compton died, Katy had contacted him and told him of the ' Compton Cricket Club' . She was particularly eager to tell him about it, its mission and what it stood for. At the time the CCC was touring the UK and wanted his support. As I'm told by Katy (who recounts the story so amusingly) Denis replied to her entreaties by saying: 'Oh I'm so delighted you've named your cricket team after me…'
Katy said at the time she didn't have the heart to tell him the club was actually named after a neighborhood!
So here I am in Los Angeles, spending a few weeks in my off-season, coaching and connecting with this team.Whatever fears I might have had about Compton, the African Americans and Hispanics that make up the side were an absolute delight. Their humour and overt friendliness brought out the best in me. (So much so that I readily accepted their insistence that the LBW rules just don't apply here: "Hey Nick we like this game but give us a break man. American cricket ain't suited for LB's!")
Watching them play, it dawned on me that perhaps I had lost sight of the game's core qualities. The team's enjoyment was infectious. The harsh regimen of professional cricket can do that to you. Here I was able to stand back and simply watch; looking from the outside in.
This was reinforced by an interview I did with Ted. A highly educated and articulate man, he spoke of cricket's "beauty", its "great rhythm" and its "polite disguise of the competitive spirit". These are the attributes that sold the game to him: "Here's a way, "that if taught properly, could change the political tenure of the world". Reallyinsightful coming from a man raised on baseball and basketball and from someone who played his first cricket match at the age of 50 (against the Beverley Hills Cricket Club).
Ted is an excellent communicator. He's a highly respected voice for the homeless. I took his observations on cricket seriously and I suppose he made me look at the game anew. Again and again he said that cricket was a way out for these kids, a place to go in the afternoons instead of joining gangs, running riot, writing graffiti, doing drugs etc. I was amazed that his youngest son Isaac was playing a role, too, if not exactly on the field. Both he and his brother have produced 'rap' songs about the game, which they titled 'Bullets to Balls', in a hope to appeal to the younger generation of black Americans.
They want to make cricket 'cool'.
Actually, the music is nothing short of awesome. How great would it be if we could get them over to perform this rap at T20 intervals in England? Spread the inner city message to the UK equivalent. Tell our kids about their messages of hope and opportunity. Actually, T20 cricket needs something new and I'm convinced this might be it. We had a great week together, although driving into the downtown location of Skid Row wasn't my idea of a morning stroll. It gave me a real insight into where these guys came from.
It's disappointing that the money given to the USCricket Board by the ICC is merely used to give expats a jolly over the weekend. Why is the money not being used to expand the game to Americans? After spending some ten days with these guys, talking to the passionate Katy, it's clear that there is some real interest over there. But what they are lacking is funding, without which it's impossible to continue recruiting new kids and going into schools to create the awareness needed.
My own journey in sport has definitely reflected this empathy and more succinctly - a realization that the game has a lot more to offer than the accumulation of runs and wickets for material gain. Even if my Grandfather is not around today, I'm glad to say that the "Compton" legacy is still going.
Published 2 December 2011