Of cricket & culture: breaking down barriers

By Indira Laisram
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2020 was a rough year on all fronts. But Vernon Tissera, Uday Chandran, Adam Tucker, Brijal Parikh and Johann Jayasinha managed to achieve something remarkable just before the coronavirus upended lives.

After five months of planning, the five organised a multicultural cricket tournament with groups from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka battling it out on March 1, 2020. The result: it was a great display of local talent, pride, sportsmanship, camaraderie, idealism and multiculturalism that a pandemic could not take away.

The aim of the tournament was to enable participants build new friendships and networks, celebrate cultural diversity and promote social cohesion. The event also aimed to create a sense of belonging for the participating families and provide opportunities for friendships among the diverse communities.

For all their efforts, the five, who are the founders of Multicultural Sports Group (MSG), received nomination medal from the Cardinia Shire Council’s Australia Day Award 2021 for Event of the Year. A step short of win, it is still a prestigious recognition for a team that believes this is just the beginning and a small step towards celebrating multiculturalism and promoting social cohesion.

So, the idea of hosting a sport that has a cultural value while being fundamentally entertaining and bringing people together was dreamed up after Tissera met Parikh at the office of Jason Wood, MP and Liberal Party Federal Member for La Trobe, a supporter of multiculturalism. They then reached out to Chandran, Tucker and Jayasinha, men with similar visions.

Sri Lanka-born Tissera, an avid cricket follower and photographer of Cricket Australia, says with the advantage of knowing many local Sri Lankan cricketers personally, he could mobilise the 11-member team representing the community. Similarly, the others spoke to the other community members. Tucker, president of the Pakenham Upper Toomuc Cricket Club and also coach for Under-14s, roped in the Australian team members from his own club.

Team Pakistan, winner of the Multicultural Sports Group Cricket Tournament trophy

The teams finalised, it was time for a venue but when talks with Officer Club, the original choice for venue, fell through, Tucker’s picturesque club proved to be the ideal setting for the MSG event. “We found the perfect opportunity to present our club to a whole different range of people and communities,” says Tucker, adding, “We tend to not get a lot of players in Upper Toomuc because it is further away as most prefer to go to other bigger clubs in Pakenham.”

With funds from the Cardinia Council, generous support from the Cardinia Gujarati Association and other sponsors, Multicultural Sports Group Cricket Tournament eventuated on March 1. It was a one-day event, an eight-over game played among five teams beginning with a round-robin tournament, followed by semi-finals and finals. Team Pakistan was declared the winner defeating team Australia. A friendly match was also held between winners Pakistan and a team comprising local MPs and councillors.

“But because it was the first time, we didn’t take the hard ball and played with tennis ball because we wanted to gain experience,” says Parikh.

Chandran, who is also the general secretary of the Doveton Show, a low-cost family friendly alternative to the Melbourne Show, run by volunteers and supported by local businesses, claims it was done on a big scale in collaboration with Pakenham Upper Toomuc Cricket Club.

“We had hundreds of spectators and a floating crowd. When one match was over, another set of crowd came,” says Chandran, who was happy at the way the day panned out.

“Earlier, cricket was played only among the Malayalis or Gujaratis or Punjabis. We wanted to change that, and so this is a new concept.”

For Parikh, a telecom professional but otherwise a social cohesion advocate, the best way to break the ice among different cultures is to organise events that promote network building where people talk and understand about each other’s culture.

His initiation into social activities goes back to his RMIT days as a student when he got elected to the student council and set up committees for students from different countries to give them the necessary support and information they needed.

“I saw a lot of advantage coming out of that and that’s the same concept I applied with cricket. I saw people building networks and exchanging business cards, it was clearly showing me that what I was thinking is right. Sports is a uniting factor.”

In the same vein, Tucker says the event was perfect for breaking down barriers. “Cricket is my passion and a lot of other peoples’ passion as well. Just to get out and meet new people to enjoy a game of cricket is great. And if we can expose our cricket club a little bit more by inviting for players who want to play a little more cricket is even better.

“We have quite a good league, the standard is quite high, but we offer social cricket as well for the lower grade and very experienced cricket at the same time. And obviously the more the people, the more the community know that we are out there willing to have as many players as we can.”

Looking into the future, MSG wants to conduct more events including indoor games. Plans are afoot but it all depends on when the pandemic does down.

Says Tissera, “We are planning to make it an annual event. We might tap into other nations and include the Sudanese, Italians and others.”

 

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Chandran wants to also include senior citizens and women.

If the narrative of 2021 Is not dominated by COVID-19, the Multicultural Sports Group can be looked up to as a force for social change—slowly but surely.


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