From LA to the MCC, the ghetto blasters on a mission

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The Independent Online

The ghettos of Los Angeles may bring to mind the sound of gunfire rather than the crack of willow on leather, but the arrival at Lord's Cricket Ground on Tuesday of a youth team from one of the city's toughest districts went some way to changing perceptions.

The Compton Homies, a team of black and Latino teenagers from rival LA street gangs, marked the beginning of their tour with a blast of rap music in which they trumpeted the virtues of the game.

But as they prepared to take on a team that included the West Indies batsman Brian Lara and the Pakistani pace bowler Shoaib Akhtar, they had to accept the loss of their star bowler, who is serving a jail sentence for involvement in a drive-by shooting.

"He just got kind of mixed up in it – it's a real shame because he helped us win the cup last year," lamented batsman Ruben Campos. He and his brother Johnie,the sons of a notorious Mexican gangster, say they have found salvation through cricket.

While many of their peers dream of fame and fortune in basketball, or aspire to the gangster glamour of rap music epitomised by the West Coast rapper Tupac Shakur, members of Compton CC have risked ridicule by embracing the gentility of cricket.

The team was established in 1995 after the homelessness activist Ted Hayes was invited to play for Beverly Hills CC and became convinced of the game's "civilising" values.

The current side comes from one of the toughest inner-city neighbourhoods on the continent. In an experiment lauded by the White House, Hayes persuaded "gang-bangers" from the rival Crips and Bloods to train twice a week and play at weekends on a patch of wasteland.

"Cricket is a dignified sport," Hayes said. "It is non-contact, non-violent and it teaches discipline and civility. It teaches these men to swallow their pride and deal with problems rather than strike out. When you're out, you fold your bat and lift your head – you don't argue."

After touring England in 1997 and 1999, Compton CC won the backing of a betting website based in Antigua, intertops.com, which finances yesterday's opponents – the all-star Lashings Cricket Club.

During a net session on Lord's Nursery Ground, most members of Compton CC – which barely plays above village standard – were realistic about their chances of winning.

But they can boast of other successes, including a rare degree of harmony between black and Latino players. Isaac Hayes, son of the team manager, said: "On the street we are all minorities trying to pull one another down – but in this team it is different ... If certain members of this team hadn't found cricket, they would almost certainly be dead."

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