On the sandy wastes of the troubled Middle East, in gangland Los Angeles or in the sun-kissed Caribbean, cricket is breaking down barriers and also creating controversial alliances.
While the Ashes battle between England and Australia dominates the attention of the game’s devotees, cricket is playing the role of peace-maker in some of the world’s most testing areas.
The Cricket For Change group, which was created 30 years ago, recently took its “street cricket” from inner-city London to the Israeli desert where Bedouin and Jewish children played the game together in the town of Beersheva.
“Here we have a chance with the young kids: they’ve not yet been brainwashed into separation, and there’s no need for it. That might sound naive. But there isn’t any need,” Tom Rodwell, the head of Cricket for Change, said.
There appeared to be some hope.
Eleven-year-old Abdullah played with Jewish children for the first time in his life.
“I felt really good, because I felt I was playing with good people,” he said.
On the other side of the world, the Compton Cricket Club (CCC) tries to divert teenagers way from the bloody gang battles which are a daily routine in one of Los Angeles’ toughest neighborhoods.
The CCC was set-up in 1995 with definite goals.
“The aim of playing cricket is to teach people how to respect themselves and respect authority so they stop killing each other,” said president Ted Hayes, who was introduced to the game in Beverley Hills by Katy Haber, a British-born film producer.
The club have even sang the praises of the sport in a rap song, Bullets.
“From bullets to balls. From the streets of concrete to the grass and mats. We’re playing cricket,” is one line in the song which was recently voted one of the top cricket tunes of all time by the Guardian newspaper.
Meanwhile, New York police are using cricket to build stronger links with Asian expatriates living in the city.
A Twenty20 tournament has been introduced with 10 teams and 170 players involved this summer.
Deputy Inspector Amin Kosseim of the NYPD’s Community Affairs Bureau, said: “The Muslim community is not a community we had great outreach to in the past.”
Cricket is also taking on diplomatic power particularly in the Caribbean where China and Taiwan have been locked in a multimillion dollar game of intrigue with key, political alliances at stake.
For the 2007 World Cup, China financed stadia in Antigua, Grenada and Jamaica while Taiwan backed the venues at St Vincent and St Kitts.
On Sunday, Windsor Park in Dominica, upgraded at a cost of US$17 million, became cricket’s latest international venue when the West Indies played Bangladesh.
The ground, which was leveled out of a rubbish dump, accommodates state-of-the-art facilities and was a gift from Beijing at the establishment of diplomatic ties between the two nations.