Villagers bowled over by the men from Skid Row

Batting for America: Homeless XI rises to challenge at the birthplace of English cricket

LIZ SEARL

A team of homeless cricketers from Los Angeles made their mark on the birthplace of English cricket yesterday when they bowled out the home team's long-standing captain.

The LA Krickets, who have played the game for only two-and-a-half months, travelled to Hambledon in Hampshire, from "skid row" as part of a project to raise awareness about homelessness.

The homeless XI comprised eight residents of the Dome Village, a long- term homelessness project which provides igloo-shaped housing to replace some of the area's shacks.

They brought with them only three professional players for support, including Stephen Speak, the former Lancashire Second XI captain who now lives in southern California.

Villagers and Hambledon cricketers alike were taken aback by the team's talent as the local side found its retiring captain sent for an early lunch with a score of 20 runs. "If I were a talent scout then I'd have my eye on a few of these men," one onlooker said.

Mike Donaldson, who was waiting to bat, agreed. "They're definitely better than we ever thought they would be three months ago when the idea was first suggested to us," he said. "We heard that they were total beginners and I didn't expect this sort of competition."

Earlier in the year the homeless men had been presented with a signed cricket bat from Hambledon by members of South Coast Metropol, a regional partnership which visited Los Angeles to forge links with businesses and communities there. The bat intrigued the residents of Dome Village so much that they decided they would try to play the sport.

"When we asked they told us it would be very difficult to learn but then the Hambledon game was arranged before we even knew how to play," said Tom Fitzpatrick, a project volunteer. "Then it suddenly became a challenge - we had all been used to playing basketball for so long and then we had to learn cricket from the beginning."

The homeless XI formed and began its coaching regime of seven hours a week with Leo Magnus, assistant manager of the United States cricket team and director for the Southern California Cricket Association.

"These boys have had to put in a tremendous amount of effort to learn the game," Mr Magnus said. "And it certainly wasn't easy to teach them the rudiments. The most difficult thing was to instil in them that cricket is not baseball, like how to bowl and not throw the ball and how to bat without lifting the bat like in baseball."

Two-and-a-half months later the team arrived in England and secured a win and a draw in three low-key matches across the country. Yesterday the LA Krickets lost to Hambledon in a limited overs match. They were 165 all out, in response to their hosts' total of 193 for 6. The tour concludes tomorrow with a friendly match against Bournemouth Cricket Club.

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