The focus around campus might be on the men’s basketball team’s return to the Big Dance, but there’s a more obscure Crimson team that also finds itself on the eve of a national tournament—one that most students probably didn’t even know existed.
The Harvard men’s cricket club will be competing for the Chanderpaul Trophy in the American College Cricket National Championships this coming weekend. The championships bring together 28 of the best teams from around the country to Fort Lauderdale at the site of the only sanctioned international cricket grounds in the United States.
Although the team only recently started competing last fall, the cricket club has now been around for several years after junior captain Ibrahin Khan along with his fellow teammates were able to get it approved as a club sport.
This first official year of play, however, finds the cricket club at the youngest it’s ever been, comprised of eight College students and only three graduate students. Several members have only ever played cricket recreationally or picked it up in their spare time.
“The competition there is really varied,” Khan said, “ranging from people like me who mainly played recreationally to people who have even played for the U.S. internationally. But most of the people there definitely have a background in cricket. People like [teammate Anton Martinho], who only started playing seriously a few months ago, are an anomaly.”
The Crimson will play the University at Buffalo and Wayne State on Friday before wrapping up group stage play against Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University on Saturday afternoon.
Harvard will most likely have to win all three of its matches in order to advance out of the group stages and cement a spot in the quarterfinals.
The cricket club had been riding a high streak after winning almost every one of its matches in the fall, unprecedented for a team that is only in its first year of conception.
But the Crimson met the defending national champions York College of the City Cuniversity of New York system in the regional finals and was resoundingly whooped.
“When we went to New York we got creamed,” Khan said. “We went to go play…and we found that the skill level was much higher than ours. That was interesting because we had been on a high all semester and then [going up against York] was a bit of a reality check.”
Despite the humbling that the team took in the fall, no one can deny the dedication of its members. Amidst a hectic midterms week, the team is flying down to Fort Lauderdale on Thursday, and those that can’t afford the flight are making the grueling 1,500-mile drive down south.
“I finished up my thesis and turned it in early so that I’d be able to go down to Florida and give whatever I can at my level of play to the team,” senior Antone Martinho said.
Despite whatever the outcome of this weekend will be, the cricket club can take comfort in the fact that they made it to the national tournament in its first year while still having room for improvement. According to the team, much of the success can be attributed to the hard work of Khan.
“I think he’s done a fantastic job,” Martinho said. “He has so much passion for bringing this club up from essentially nowhere, from playing with tennis balls on the top floor of the MAC to getting field time."
Matinho added that the level of devotion on the squad extends under the umbrella of Khan's leadership.
"We used to struggle to get 11 guys together to play a game, but now we have no trouble getting a team together that can commit," Matinho said. "I’ve been very impressed with what he’s been able to do in such a short time.”
Despite being in its infancy, the cricket club is confident that it can make a strong effort to bring the national championship back to Harvard. One can consider the loss to York in regionals growing pains—now the Crimson can move past that and get geared up for the real challenge of its first year.
“We basically said that, look, as a team we want to give a better representation of ourselves and nationals was the place to do it,” Khan said. “It’s a bit of an ‘avenging the defeat’ mentality but I think it’s giving the boys that much more of an incentive to do well.”
—Staff writer Alex L. Saich can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Sensaichonal.