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Immigrants and Expatriates Go to Bat for the Sport of Empire

The Israel Night Cricket League boasts an impressively eclectic mix of characters - among them three rabbis - for their 90 minute matches

Warren Wienburg
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File photo: Migrant workers play cricket in Tel Aviv's Hayarkon Park, May 29, 2019.
File photo: Migrant workers play cricket in Tel Aviv's Hayarkon Park, May 29, 2019.Credit: \ Ilan Assayag
Warren Wienburg

For all those who abandoned cricket back in exile and imagined that their match time had gone the same way as their Sundays, the Israel Night Cricket League has been filling the void under floodlights in Modi’in.

“The Night League has it all — brutish Aussie fast bowlers, wristy Indian batsmen, crazy Kiwis, obnoxious Afrikaans sledging and immaculate English keepers, which is more than England can boast,” observed one league member.

After the end of this year’s regular league season, the players competed in a new “5 nations” tournament, the brainchild of Clint Rubin. India became the first winter of the Sam Rubin Trophy last week by beating South Africa, which was led by Eshkol Solomon, in the final.

The Indian squad included the Night League brothers Yogev, Yair and Niv Negavkar, Man of the Match in the final Shamir Ghosalkar and fast bowler Shubham Mathur.

Additional teams included Australia, which was powered by Mir Yeshiva’s Rabbi Joe Kornwasser; England, which was co-captained by Jamie Lazarus, who raises funds for IDF orphans when off the court, and Ben King; and Israel, which entered a youth team but dropped out when some of the players left for their summer vacations.

The Night League is the brainchild of former Israel skipper and coach Herschel Gutman, who wanted to set up a space for immigrants to continue to enjoy the sport. He gathered a few brave souls together in Modi’in and started playing action cricket — an accelerated form of the game (matches take only 90 minutes instead of the traditional five days) using a taped-up tennis ball.

Of course, you’d have to be a little insane to try this, and it was no surprise that the Night League has been built on the shoulders of characters like the terrible duo “Crouching Tiger” Chopper D. Harris and Michael “Sky Ball” Morris, who are more comfortable sledging their own teammates than actually doing anything particularly helpful with the ball, TBL Lange who has been known to headbutt a brick wall in the hope that it would accommodate his desperate dives, Sol Talker who finds time for a smoke and a beer before swaggering out to the crease like Viv Richards, and Aryeh Myers who skippers that maddest of teams YMCC, before spending the remainder of his nights saving lives in an ambulance.

The League boasts three rabbis, with legendary fast bowler Rabbi Benjy Myers considering cricket to be an important part of his curriculum when teaching in the Straus-Amiel Practical Rabbinics Program.

The Night League has since added a more relaxed Division 2. Its Division 1 boasts current and former Maccabi and Israel players challenge for glory in what has become a truly multicultural league and a reflection of the diversity of Israeli society.

YMCA, the current Division 1 champion, is skippered by former Capetonian, Clint Rubin, and includes players from India (current national captain Eshkol Solomon), Sri Lanka (speedster Anuruddha Desahppriya), Aussie rising star, 14-year-old Gabi Glass, and former South African international soccer player Warren “Bafana” Lewis.

YMCA met Gold in the league final — a composite Beit Shemesh-Yad Binyamin team led by Ilan Peretz and his brother and World Mizrachi Chief Executive, Doron Peretz.

Man of the Match Brett Hickson (who hails from a remote farming district outside of Cape Town, in South Africa), said that “dreams do come true sometimes” when talking about a match that “we managed to win by an excellent runout by our ace fielder Bafana Lewis.”

Brett noted the immense respect the YMCA players have for the Gold players, who “remain gentlemen on the court while being the fiercest of competitors.”