Boys of Summer: Cricket in Gwangju

There are only a few days of summer left. The low hum of cicadas fills the thick August evening air as another crack of the bat is heard echoing through the courtyard. The hit sends the ball soaring into the distant trees. A player resting near the benches cheers for his teammate in a flurry of Bengali before taking another gulp of water.

This group of Bangladeshi men gathers every weekend at Chonnam University to play what is the national pastime in their country—cricket.

Cricket2“I’ve been playing [cricket] since I was a child,” said Soumitra Kundu. “It is more popular than football now [in Bangladesh].  We are crazy about it.”

Kundu is a part of a group of Bangladeshi students who began holding cricket games together in 2009.  First, they played off-campus on concrete but eventually were given permission to play in an open field behind the Pharmacy Department building. What began with only six players has blossomed to 18 or 19 players who meet consistently.

“I came [to Korea] to study,” said Kundu, who graduated with a Ph.D. in business administration. “Now I work for a company here. This is the easiest way for us to gather…The students on the team work hard and have a lot of stress, but when we play cricket we forget everything.”

A few weeks earlier, the group organized a tournament of Bangladeshi students, factory workers and businessmen at Chonnam. Over 40 people participated.

“A lot of times it is difficult for foreigners to find things to do in Korea in their free-time or feel comfortable traveling in Korea,” said Kundu. “Language is the main barrier here. Of course English is being used more, which is making things better…Groups like this are an important part of our community.”

Aminel Hatue, a Chosun University biomedical student, joined one year ago after finding out about the group through a Bangladeshi friend. Kundu pointed him out as one of their best players, a compliment Hatue dismissed with laughter.

“The quality of the players has increased,” said Hatue with a broad smile. “There used to be high quantity, but low quality. Sometimes I like to help the other players if they want to learn how to do something.”

Cricket1Hatue also began playing cricket as a child and once hoped to be a professional cricketer.

“My father was a school teacher though,” said Hatue. “He said his son should study hard, so I never had the opportunity [to be a cricketer]. But I play now whenever I get the chance.”

While living in Suwon for a year, Hatue had the opportunity to play with the National Korean Cricket Team. Unlike the local Gwangju group, the national team plays a more formal version of cricket.

“[Formal] cricket can be expensive because of all of the special equipment,” said Hatue. “A [formal] bat can cost one million won and equipment is difficult to find here…But I plan to play with the national team in Incheon next week…About 150 to 200 players will be at the stadium.”

Kundu is quick to remark on Korea’s growing curiosity about the sport.

“Sometimes Koreans see us playing and stop and ask, ‘How do you play this game?’, ‘What are you playing?’” said Kundu. “I think the seeds of cricket were just planted in Korea two or three years ago. There are teams in Seoul and I hope an organization to teach people interested in cricket can begin in Gwangju. This would be a great way to bring students and workers from countries like India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal together. That is a dream of mine.”

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