Gaza War Jeopardizes Cricket League’s Future, and Players Say Their Hearts Aren’t in the Game

Truncated season could prevent the league from completing the minimal number of games required by the national sports lottery, which provides financial backing.

Naor Gudker

The ongoing conflict in the Gaza Strip has more than just shut down Israel cricket’s premier-league season, it threatens the sport’s funding.

The CEO of the Israel Cricket Association, Naor Gudker, told Haaretz Thursday that the truncated season could prevent the league from completing the minimal number of games required by the national sports lottery, which provides financial backing.

“Because of the war we haven’t even got to half the league,” said Gudker, who explained that the league has only played 30 percent of the 108 regularly scheduled games.

“The games were stopped until they could get permission from the Home Front Command to return because the pitches are in open and not protected spaces, in contrast to soccer.”

Not only has Israel Cricket yet to secure funding for a proper stadium, but the league — which is dominated by Indian-Israelis as well as English-speakers from other Commonwealth nations — is concentrated in places such as Be’er Sheva, Dimona, Ashdod and Lod.

“If we had one international-level pitch, we would have had games,” bemoaned Gudker. “We have to cope with that.” The Ashdod pitch, for example, is in a public park.

The league usually runs from March to late September or early October, but all games since the beginning of Operation Protective Edge in early July have been postponed. The league was hoping to make up games this month during the lull, but the Home Front Command has yet to approve any, including games set for this weekend.

Now, November won’t be enough to make up all the missed games. “Then there are the rains, and then I am in another trap,” said Gudker, who noted that November is usually the month for special tournaments such as the Indian Embassy Trophy and competitions named for fallen former cricketers.

“I hope it won’t affect our Toto funding next year,” added Gudker, referring to the sports betting authority.

Not only have games been canceled but teams have struggled or have lost their enthusiasm to hold practice sessions.

“Some people can’t stop their routine. They keep playing as usual, as if nothing happened, and then some people, because of what the Home Front Command says, so they don’t take even the smallest of chances in case the Iron Dome doesn’t work,” explained Yaniv Razpurker, the captain of Ashdod and vice-captain of the Israel national men’s cricket team.

No one in Ashdod is ready to take that chance and risk his life for a certain type of sport, he said. “The league is supposed to resume August 30. I hope there won’t be any more rockets,” he said.

While the team is not practicing, Razpurker said that there are meetings on an individual basis, in which three or four players practice together.

Operation Protective Edge has also taken away potential players. According to Razpurker, he and five other soldiers as well as a couple of civilians working with the Israel Defense Forces have put in extra time due to the conflict.

Yefet Nagavkar, captain of Lions Lod, told Haaretz yesterday that two members of his team, Gershon Massil and Emanuel Solomon, received emergency reserve-duty call-up notices.

He said that although Lod is farther away from Gaza than Ashdod, for example, the war there still affects Friday practices, when only a handful of players turn up.

“Some of the players also don’t come because of their gut feeling,” said Nagavkar. “When there are rockets in the air, it gives them a bad feeling.”

Nagavkar said that Lod carries on with practices because the club also has youth playing, and they want to encourage the children who feel connected to the game. He said about six to eight children come each week.

Still, they can’t escape the war atmosphere. “Kids talk about the situation,” he said. “There were rockets on Tel Aviv at some practices, and then they saw the Iron Dome intercepting the rockets, so in the middle of practice they would go to the side.

After they come back they talk about it, so they don’t have a great feeling about it, but they do try to return to a routine.”

Ronen Waskar, who plays for Be’er Sheva as well as the men’s national team, was called up during Operation Protective Edge. He said it has been impossible to play in Be’er Sheva since the operation began.

“I played once when I had a 24-hour leave, next to the club, not even on the pitch,” he said yesterday. “My brother, who is in the Nahal Brigade, has been in Gaza since the beginning of the operation.”

He says the war has put an overall damper on the sport. “No one feels like sport. They’re all thinking about the war,” he said. “It is not like a regular day, when everyone is waiting for Shabbat [to play].”

Waskar, who was born in Mumbai and immigrated to Israel with his family as a child, says he usually follows international cricket.

“I try to follow it but there’s not always time, especially when I was in reserve duty,” he said. “India was just in a series with England. I followed a little on the cricket app but didn’t watch the games. Of course I usually would watch online.”

Waskar says that not only his brother Shifron, who also would watch games, has put cricket on the side because of the war, but so, too have his parents. “Both my parents really stopped being interested in cricket,” said Waskar.

Putting things into perspective, he added, “For all our love of cricket, fighting for my country is more important.”

Despite the war, one positive development of cricket in the south has held up: involvement of the local Bedouin community. The Bedouin playing in Be’er Sheva continue to visit and play with the local club, Waskar stressed. “The war has not affected our relationship with them.”