On the Front Foot: Maasai warriors team could worry England in the future

 

In downtown Kolkata, Barney Douglas is dreaming of Maasai warriors. It may seem a peculiar juxtaposition of images but both, improbably, are connected with cricket.

Douglas, the England and Wales Cricket Board's video producer, is in India performing his normal duties. But he is also making a film about how and why the Maasai tribe of Kenya began playing organised cricket, and the potentially dramatic effect it could have on the way they live. Their journey in the game, which began five years ago, will reach an important staging post when they tour England this summer.

Douglas's infectiously enthusiastic involvement began on World Aids Day in 2011, when he saw a newspaper photograph of a Maasai warrior in full traditional regalia holding a cricket bat. It made an indelible impression. Researching the genesis of the photograph he discovered that the warriors were using cricket in a much wider context.

"They took to the game because they felt it reflected their hunting techniques – the ball the spear, the bat the shield," he said. "Also the foot movement, the crouching, the sudden bursts of pace. One of the guys told me he ran from elephants and it was good training for cricket! But there was a darker side."

The Maasai were introduced to the game by a conservation worker, Aliya Bauer, who encouraged the involvement of the charity Cricket Without Boundaries. The game has united previously conflicting clans within the Maasai and is gradually helping to ease longstanding problems created by ancient practices, and which are now the cause of debate between young and old.

"I discovered these warriors were using cricket to not just fight HIV/Aids, but also female genital mutilation, early marriages, domestic abuse. It is giving them this unity and status. They've changed situations within their own families."

Douglas last week enlisted the England fast bowler Jimmy Anderson as the film's executive producer. Anderson intends to be hands-on with creative input and his name might help to open doors that would otherwise stay shut. It took even the affable Douglas time to build trust, but gradually he was welcomed by the team.

He has been to Kenya twice and is a third of the way through filming, for which additional funds would be welcome (to help, visit www.indiegogo.com/warriorsfilm). "A number of the players walk four hours to training," Douglas said. "Some get the bus, which usually breaks down. The schoolchildren hang out of the windows and watch them train, they are starting to look up to them. If I can make something that does the people involved justice then that to me will be a real achievement."

Openers are looking good

Alastair Cook and Nick Compton have made an excellently stoic start to their partnership in Test cricket. Their liaison has provoked another issue: to wit, are they the most handsome first-wicket pair ever?

Cook, the former choirboy with his chiselled chin, and Compton with his devil-may-care twinkle, would have to be played by Gregory Peck and Clark Gable in the movie. Nothing of recent vintage quite compares (Geoff Boycott and John Edrich, perhaps?), though the crisply turned out Jack Hobbs and Herbert Sutcliffe from an earlier generation might have set female hearts aflutter.

Just 13 century partnerships to go, chaps, to match them in that regard.

Carr is our oldest captain

Ted Dexter, who captained England on their 1961-62 tour of India, has been in Kolkata this week. He is not, however, as OTFF readers remind us, the oldest surviving England captain.

Brian Close, Ray Illingworth, Mike (MJK) Smith and Tom Graveney are all older. And England's oldest surviving captain is Donald Carr, 85, who captained England in one of his only two Tests, also in India, in 1952.

Boycott still pulls crowd

There was a flurry of activity in the Eden Gardens radio commentary booth yesterday. With Rahul Dravid in occupation, admirers rushed in.

It was not Dravid who was the object of their adoration but Geoff Boycott, walking in for his morning's work with Test Match Special. An icon here, he was required to pose for photographs.

s.brenkley@independent.co.uk

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