Inside Israel and the Palestinian Territories
Pushing back cricket’s boundary for Israel’s bedouin
For decades, the small number of cricket followers in Israel has been trying to clear up what is so far an unsolved mystery: Why the sport never took off in the country after the British lowered the Union Jack on pre-state Israel in 1948.
Cricket, along with golf, is probably the most enduring bequest of the British Empire to its former colonies, but definitely not in the Jewish state.
Because it was seen as such a complicated sport that needed so much explaining, for many years Israeli newspapers and radio and television stations preferred to deliberately ignore cricket.
Often you would get people trying to show that they understood something about the sport by saying to the frustrated and infuriated cricket follower: “ah cricket, that’s like baseball, isn’t it?”
On more than one occasion, I was questioned as to the identity of the rabbi in the framed picture on my living room wall: no prizes for guessing that it was actually this caricature of W.G. Grace, the father of modern cricket and with little doubt the sport’s most enduring and most recognisable figure.
Recently, though, things have begun to change.
Since the introduction of satellite television, cricket has become better known in the country and now the media deigns to mention it when it’s a really big story.
There are even a few cases of people from non-cricketing backgrounds who have become involved in the sport.
Organised cricket has been played in Israel since the 1950s and there is a proper league with about a dozen clubs, but even today there are no more than a few hundred players and probably no more than a few thousand followers of the sport. The Israel Cricket Association (ICA) is an associate member of the International Cricket Council and one of the founder members of the European Cricket Council.
For the past few years Israel’s under-15 junior team has had remarkable success in European tournaments with teams comprising mainly Jewish players. Now, a British-based charity, Cricket For Change, has been invited by the ICA to help to set up a basic cricket programme among Israel’s bedouin communities.
“Cricket For Change tries to bridge between communities but we did not have anything to bridge (our kids) to, so we decided to go to the bedouin communities,” said George Scheader, the ICA’s director of cricket development, who has worked since 2000 to introduce Israeli youngsters to the sport.
The hope is that Israel’s bedouin, one of the country’s most impoverished communities, will take up the cricket and enhance their generally one-dimensional sporting interest in soccer and that perhaps one day talented bedouin players will emerge and represent Israel alongside their Jewish teammates.