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Health & Spirit

Cricket in full swing on Ramadan nights

Melissa Etehad, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Religious News

Throughout the Muslim world, cities radiate with life after the sun goes down during Ramadan. Families roam streets to buy groceries and mingle with neighbors. In Pakistan, a particular practice emerged -- late-night cricket.

The sport is beloved throughout South Asia, including Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and India.

But that wasn't always the case. Many who lived under British colonial rule viewed it as a symbol of oppression and a game for wealthy white men. It wasn't until the middle of the 20th century, after Pakistan's independence, that the sport started to gain a foothold throughout society.

Today, cricket is a source of pride and plays a significant role in Pakistani culture. Professional cricketers take on the status of celebrities, and the games offer people a reprieve from mundane responsibilities.

For the nighttime matches during Ramadan, young adults and kids play in any open space with lights -- playgrounds, of course, but even empty roads. Players recall matches played on city streets, when balls sometimes crashed into houses and windows. Sometimes they had to pause and move off the street to allow frustrated drivers to drive by, their horns honking.

Often unable to afford a proper cricket ball -- leather stitched around a center of cork and string -- they played with tennis balls wrapped in electrical tape.

 

Such balls were used by Zafar and his fellow players. Along with the flat bats, players had brought dozens of neon green tennis balls and rolls of white electrical tape. They could be found throughout the complex of ballparks, built to replicate big-league fields such as Yankee Stadium or Fenway Park.

The players ranged in age from 30 to 50. Some were born in Karachi, others in Lahore and Punjab. Many started playing the sport as young as 4 years old, while others didn't start until they arrived in the U.S. This evening was their second of three late-night cricket outings in Ramadan, which ends Tuesday.

Zafar left Karachi and moved to Los Angeles in 2001 when he was 21.

He now owns two fitness gyms and lives with his wife and two young children in Eastvale in Riverside County.

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