Jamie Alter: White people love cricket too

Jamie Alter: White people love cricket too

How a white Indian became a cricket writer

Jamie Alter"Hello, Australia! Ricky Ponting! Hey Kevin O’Brien!”

This is the most recent greeting I received, stepping onto an empty field to play a tennis-ball cricket match with some teenagers.

I’m used to it, and I can’t really blame the man on the street for assuming that a white guy in a cricket jersey and shorts and trainers, playing with a bunch of Indians must be an overseas recruit or a foreigner looking for a bit of cricketing action.

In reality, I’m a white Indian.

I was born in India and have an Indian passport, like my father.

Confused? I’ll try and keep it short.

I am a fourth-generation American in India. My paternal great grandfather came to what is now Pakistan as a missionary around the turn of the 20th century, my grandfather was born in Sialkot, my father in Mussoorie, and I in Gujarat.

Why Gujarat? Because that’s where my maternal grandparents were stationed.

They weren’t born in India. Neither was my mom, though she was nine months when her parents moved from Pennsylvania to India. True story.

My education was divided between Mumbai and Mussoorie, and each played very different roles in my sporting awakening.

In Mumbai I studied at the American School in Breach Candy, where we played basketball, softball, dodgeball and football.

Cricket wasn’t even spoken about at school, and so it came to be that I shunned it as a child despite my father’s attempts to keep me tuned in by taking me along to net practice and matches where he played.

I had been to Mumbai's Wankhede Stadium with my father and Fred Wray, a rare American who came to love cricket, for a day’s play between West Indies and India back in the mid-eighties. I could not even tell you who was batting or what the score was.

I remember ambling through our south Mumbai flat wishing this blasted game between India and Pakistan would finish so I could watch an episode of "The Wonder Years," not grasping what the effect of a loss to the old enemy would mean.

All this changed when I went back to Woodstock boarding school in 1995 and slammed head-first into the 1996 Cricket World Cup.

Here I was exposed to cricket in a manner that had so far eluded me during years of studying at an American school full of rich, spoiled brats weaned on baseball and basketball.

Suddenly the game was alive, with every one of my friends playing in the corridors and on the basketball courts and discussing whether Sachin Tendulkar -- the same one I had watched give his first television interview to my father in 1989 -- or Mark Waugh would take their team to the finals of the competition.

And so the next four years were spent playing, reading and watching cricket, with some studying in between matches.

Inspired by Shahid Afridi -- Hell, I had the same hairstyle, why couldn’t I bowl a batsman through the gate and act cocky doing it? -- I tried my hand at spin and slogging.

The spin did not go quite as I had envisioned it would, primarily because I did not fully grasp the concept of what leg spin was. A few experiments with medium pace in-swing followed, but with little success, and so I settled for off-spin, which came easy to me.

This game, this sport, this love affair has taken me to different grounds and allowed me to make some true friends right around the world.

From Hanson Field at Woodstock in Uttarakhand to a strip of dirt in a valley outside Uttarkashi; to a small wicket tucked away in a lush green forest in Surrey, England; to the grounds of a liberal Presbyterian university in the sprawling Midwest of the United States. Each ground has unfolded a different result and a different story, some unexpectedly positive and some crushingly difficult.

After six years in the United States, I returned to Mumbai to become a cricket writer.

I worked at Cricinfo for five years, covering cricket in India, England and Sri Lanka, then moved on for a brief stint as assistant editor at the now defunct All Sports Magazine.

I've had the pleasure of interviewing domestic and international cricketers and authoring two cricket books.

I’m still at it and don’t see myself doing anything else.

I will continue to be called Ponting and O’Brien by bystanders when I step onto the cricket field. Do I mind? No. This is home. And cricket is my field.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Jamie Alter.

Jamie Alter is freelance cricket writer based in Mumbai.

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