story by Julia Steele
photos by Sergio Goes
Look closely in Kapi‘olani Park and you’ll see them, all in white, among the lacrosse and soccer players and the date palms and the hardy grass. They’ll be running or maybe standing still, holding pieces of wood or maybe chasing a small ball. They’ll mention things about runs and bowls and sides in accents that come from Delhi and Dublin and Dunedin. For hours, they’ll dart, throw and thwack. And then, when their whites are closer to browns, they’ll disperse—only to gather again farther afield over lagers and ales.
It’s just another delightful Sunday for the members of the Honolulu Cricket Club, another in a long, long, long line of Sundays, for this club has the distinction of being the oldest sporting club in the Pacific, a distinction vetted by no less than the Guinness Book of World Records. The club was founded in 1893, though little—nothing, really—is remembered of those early cricket years in Honolulu. Still, how the game got here isn’t that much of a mystery: Cricket was sweeping the British Empire in the 19th century, and while Honolulu might not have been under the sway of the Union Jack, there were a number of Brits on the island—and the Hawaiian royals had forged such a strong connection with the House of Windsor that Queen Lili‘uokalani even traveled to England to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee.
Now, more than a century on, the Empire has dissolved into the Common-wealth, a loose collective of nations united by tea, curry shops, BBC News at 7—and cricket. The sport is now the second-most popular in the world, right behind soccer. There are currently some fifty members of the Honolulu Cricket Club (HCC), most of them expats from Commonwealth nations who live on O‘ahu; between them, the players represent twelve countries. The sight of them all in their whites suggests a certain uniformity, but make no mistake: This is an eclectic bunch.
For example, Owen O’Callaghan grew up playing cricket in Ireland, Jamaica and Canada and arrived in Hawai‘i after he tossed in a London-based career in international finance to make cakes in the Islands. “From banking to baking,” he says with a grin, taking a break as one of his teammates prepares to bat. Sitting next to him on a fold-out chair is Russel Freeman, introduced to cricket as a boy at school in New Zealand and still playing half a century on. “I must be the most experienced member,” he says wryly, reminiscing about games played through the decades. (“In Uganda, snakes would come out of the grass. We’d kill them and then go back to the match.”) Pankaj Bhanot learned cricket on the streets of Delhi at 7; he continued playing while getting his Ph.D. in England, on the team for the University of Nottingham, and eight years ago joined up with the HCC. Cricket, he says, is a true sport of the masses. “With one bat and one ball, twenty-two people can go at one another. It’s a very passionate sport with lots of decorum and discipline, and it requires a lot of stamina. You have to be extremely fit.” He looks the part as he makes this assertion: trim, formal, strong and keen.