Bendigo Strikers: How a community cricket club grew

By Indira Laisram
Bendigo Strikers in new jersey

Around 2010, Bendigo saw a few influx of Malayalees, or people originally from Kerala, India’s southern state. Quite a tight-knit community, and bound by a common love for cricket, few of the men got together and played the sport. It was a good pastime while they waited for new jobs or had time off between studying and working.

But while they had the manpower, they lacked the resources being new migrants. So, they played cricket with hard tennis balls and no proper equipment. It didn’t matter. They were having fun while learning the nuances of the sport.

With time, the number of people playing cricket every weekend grew. From every vantage point in the field, they looked ready to cobble together a team as they played against the local Punjabi (north Indian) boys and the local Sri Lankan clubs.

Winning the Axe Creek Multicultural Cricket Tournament in June 2019

In 2014, after one such match, the boys got together and over a barbecue came to a unanimous decision to form a club. They had the numbers by then and there were many potential players in the group.

“So, that’s when we selected a captain and executive members. Jalal T John became the first captain of Bendigo Strikers,” says Arun George, current President of the club, who as a member of the MRF Cricket team in Goa, prior to coming to Australia, had the opportunity to play with cricket greats such as Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar.

Although, Bendigo Strikers, a home-grown club, was registered in 2018 as corporation with Consumer Affairs, Victoria, the club has been playing many games as a team since 2014. “Our first tournament was the one organised by an Afghanistan club in Shepparton,” recalls Anil Jose, a bowler and also club secretary, who joined in 2015. He adds, “We didn’t have much success there and won only one match.”

After that came an opportunity to play with Melbourne club Brimbank Strikers. “It was a pretty competitive match,” recalls Jose. But in a way, it would be a spirited warmup to many matches against local clubs in regional Victoria and Melbourne.

By far, the most eventful and popular win in their short history has been winning the Axe Creek Multicultural Cricket Tournament last year. They won against Strathdale Club by eight runs. The Axe Creek Cricket Club’s multicultural winter tournament is based on the unique concept of providing players from diverse backgrounds to play the sport cricket during the winter months of April, May and June.

The club with their first jersey in 2017

Issac Joseph, vice-captain of Bendigo Strikers and someone who has credited with being a major driving force of the club, says, “A lot of factors helped us reach where we are today. For instance, there is another cricket club here from the Punjabi community, with whom we grew playing together most weekends. We couldn’t win against them in the beginning, but we did after a few matches. A big thank you to the Punjabi friends who helped us develop our skills and our players as well.”

Jose also acknowledges the role of James, the club’s first president, who in his golden years played for the district team back in Kerala. “He is like a father figure and mentor to all of us.”

A sponsorship from the Commonwealth Bank also helped meet the needs of the team.

However, the Bendigo Strikers also want to see themselves reflected in other missions. With the fund, they also conducted a training camp for children. “The turnout was more than what we anticipated,” says Jose, who also plays for local leagues.

The Strikers have also played cricket to contribute towards floods and the bushfire in Victoria. They believe that is a small token of gratitude to the larger community who has become invested in their success.

Now, the team is focussing on getting its own ground from City of Greater Bendigo Council, not an easy ask as there a number of sports club vying for the same.

Arun George, current president, handing over a cheque for $1,000 for CFA towards bushfire relief. This fund was raised by Bendigo Strikers & Strathdale Maritians

“Our aim is to have our own ground and participate in the local league under the banner of Bendigo Strikers, that’s what we have been pushing for. We‘ve been having talks with the Bendigo Council over the past few years. They are hopeful that in few years’ time we could get a home ground with all the facilities,” says Jose.

Till they get a ground of their own, the Strikers say they might have to affiliate themselves with other clubs so they can practise and keep up with the sport. “That’s what we are experimenting now from this season onwards. It will be a sort of an alliance where we are there for a short time until our home ground is available. We have to go this way, represent ourselves and our community,” says George.

Understandably. The team’s narrative is tied to its roots in India in ways that fuse faith, language and oneness.

“There is no other group that meets regularly, we have developed a kind of bond as we got to know the families too. Also, we help one another. For instance, if someone is in a kind of a struggle, he gets a helping hand or when a new family comes we encourage them to come and play with us. We all speak in our own language too,” says Issac.

Anil Jose, club secretary, says due to COVID-19 all committee meetings have moved online

“But that doesn’t mean we have turned a blind eye to anyone who wants to join us,” says George, citing the examples of Sri Lankans who have joined them in the past.

“The future plan is to have a club welcoming everyone and create a community development club which provide some good training and develop emerging players,” says Issac. “At the moment, we are exclusively for Malayalees.”

The pandemic has put on a hold to their progress. “Because of COVID-19, we have missed two tournaments. It has affected us badly and we have stopped playing cricket,” rues Issac. “However, we have organised few executive meetings and one general body meeting through Zoom to discuss future activities. As of now, we are waiting for the revoking of the restrictions. Once everything is over, we are planning to organise a cricket tournament and team members are eagerly waiting to start practice and social interactions.”

Sports are built on the ideas of competition, friendship and social cohesion. They are also determined by will and a drive. Bendigo Strikers have plenty of that. And that is a lot to cheer for.

This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas

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